MINNEAPOLIS – Given their contract status and the money owed to them, right-hander Mike Leake and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion aren’t likely increasing the value of what the Mariners would receive in return. But with their recent play, they are possibly expediting the timeline for their eventual trade to another organization.
It’s never been if the Mariners will trade Leake, Encarnacion and the handful of other veterans on guaranteed contracts, but when the team will make those moves and how much money they will have to eat in the process. In a losing season that the organization has labeled a “stepback,” they know that their departure is coming. And the prospect return? Well, with the recent trade of Jay Bruce and circumstances surrounding the others players’ situations, it probably won’t be as much as fans might hope.
Both Leake and Encarnacion continued to play well as the July 31 Major League trade deadline got a day closer, but their efforts couldn’t overcome a late implosion from Seattle’s patchwork bullpen that prevented the Mariners from winning back-to-back games for the first time since May 13-14.
The duo of rookie right-handed relievers Brandon Brennan and Austin Adams — two of the Mariners’ better performers in recent weeks — struggled in the eighth inning, turning a two-run lead into an eventual 6-5 loss.
“We played a good ball game, but we just didn’t finish the game,” manager Scott Servais said. “That’s the frustrating thing tonight. We gave them a chance to get some momentum going, and they capitalized on them. We did some good things, but not enough.”
With the loss, Seattle is now 28-42 on the season.
Given a 5-3 lead, Brennan entered the game and never recorded an out, giving up back-to-back doubles to Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco for a run. He walked Nelson Cruz to put the go-ahead run on first. Up 1-2 on Kepler, Brennan left a changeup out up enough in the zone. It was off the plate, but still hittable.
“I was pretty surprised he got to it,” Brennan said. “He must have been looking away and he got to it. He must have been looking away. That’s really the only way you are going to hit that.”
Adams entered and got Eddie Rosario to line out to left, but the speedy Polanco was able to tag up and advance to third. The extra 90 feet loomed large when he hustled home on a wild pitch from Adams to tie the game at 5-5. The Twins took the lead for good on Marwin Gonzalez’s two-out single to right.
“We did enough offensively, but just couldn’t close it out,” Servais said.
The Mariners got the tying and go-ahead runners on base immediately to start the ninth on back-to-back singles from Mallex Smith and Domingo Santana off Twins closer Trevor May. But Encarnacion was called out on strikes by home-plate umpire Mike Estabrook on a 3-2 fastball well off the plate.
“That ball is off the plate and we would’ve had bases loaded and nobody out if May doesn’t get the benefit of that call,” Servais said.
The ever-stoic Encarnacion even had a few words to say in frustration to Estabrook.
“It’s tough, man,” he said. “In that situation, you want to get some work done. But we are human. I know it was a ball, but there’s nothing I can do there.”
After Encarnacion struck out, Daniel Vogelbach popped out to second and Kyle Seager popped out to left to end the game.
The bullpen failure nullified a quality start from Leake, who pitched seven innings, giving up three runs on six hits with no walks and six strikeouts.
“Like Wade (LeBlanc) said, it’s probably the best lineup there is right now,” Leake said. “Each hitter really has the ability to explode on every pitch — that’s kind of what their danger is. You have to make sure you are around the black or off the black and making sure you are mixing.”
He’s now pitched seven-plus innings in his last three starts, allowing six total runs in 23 innings pitched with two walks and 13 strikeouts.
“Mike’s in a really good groove right now,” Servais said. “You can see it. He’s making really quick adjustments out there. The command of his pitches has been really, really good. Outstanding outing by him.”
Encarnacion continued his torrid run at the plate, belting a three-run homer in his first at-bat. He now has 21 homers — the most in the American League — and eight homers in the month of June.
“My timing is good,” Encarnacion said. “When you have your timing right with rhythm, you can see the ball better. I slowed down the game a little bit. It’s why I have been seeing the ball in the strike zone good.”
The Mariners grabbed a 3-0 lead against Twins starter Martin Perez with two outs in the third inning. Back-to-back singles from Smith and Santana brought the red-hot Encarnacion to the plate. Perez made the mistake of leaving 1-1 fastball over the middle of the plate. Encarnacion doesn’t miss those sorts of gifts. He hit a low line drive over the wall in left-center for a three-run homer.
Leake couldn’t hold the lead. The power of the Twins got to him in the bottom of the fourth inning. With two outs and a runner on second, Jonathan Schoop sent a ball into the left-field seats for a two-run homer. Jason Castro followed with a solo homer to right to make it 3-3. It was the seventh time this season the Twins have hit back-to-back homers, tying the Mariners for the most in baseball.
Seattle retook the lead in the fifth on an RBI single from Vogelbach. Seager added a run-scoring single in the seventh to make it 5-3.