The oft-held belief, regurgitated in various forms by the people who make a living around the game of baseball, says that every team in the major leagues, including the very worst team, will win at least 50 games in a season and lose 50 games in a season and the remaining 62 games will measure the success.
If that is to be accepted as a truth, then it’s difficult to know whether Saturday’s 8-4 loss to the worst team in baseball falls into the Mariners’ 50 expected defeats or in the 62 that determine the overall success.
Given how they lost it – yet another bullpen meltdown – it fits into the category of decisions that define a season that has descended into a forgettable insignificance with the exception of draft-pick slotting.
It was notable in some ways. The Mariners’ three-game winning streak – their first since April 18-20 – seemingly ended as quickly as it started. Meanwhile, the Orioles, the worst team in baseball by record, reputation and talent, snapped a 10-game losing streak.
“We struggled in the bullpen today and I knew going into the game we were going to have to have some guys step up,” manager Scott Servais said. “We are going to continue to give guys opportunities and find out if they can take that opportunity and run with it. It just didn’t happen today.”
With right-handers Austin Adams and Anthony Bass – two of the Mariners’ best relievers — unavailable because of usage and “closer” Roenis Elias having worked three days in a row, the Mariners opted not to use an opener for lefty Tommy Milone. They had done so in his previous three turns in the rotation with varied levels of success.
Servais admitted pregame that he would likely have to rely on some of his inexperienced relievers late in the game.
“We’ll have some guys throw today that haven’t thrown a lot recently,” he said pregame.
It was said with the enthusiasm of a person headed for a root canal or colonoscopy.
Save for one pitch, Milone gave the Mariners an acceptable outing, working through the Orioles’ unknown lineup and the meandering strike zone and mood of home-plate umpire C.B. Bucknor.
Milone worked through the first three innings without allowing a hit as Seattle grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first inning off Baltimore starter Andrew Cashner on a Daniel Vogelbach RBI double.
But with one out in the fourth inning, Pedro Severino singled and Renato Nunez doubled into left field to start the problems. Facing Jonathan Villar, one of the more experienced players in the Orioles’ lineup, Milone elevated an 0-1 fastball, looking for a swing and a miss or a cheap popup. Villar instead got on top of the 87 mph pitch that was above the strike zone, sending a rocket over the visitor’s bullpen in left field.
“That’s the tricky thing,” Milone said. “If you miss up in the zone, they can do damage. But that pitch specifically, it was above the zone. I feel like more times than not, I will get success out of that pitch. It was just one of those times where I didn’t.”
Milone made it through five innings, allowing just the three runs on four hits with three walks and six strikeouts.
Down 3-1 isn’t an impossible lead to overcome against a pitching staff that came into the game with an MLB-worst 5.78 earned-run average and had allowed 153 homers, which is the most in baseball. It is instructive to point out the Mariners came in with the second-worst ERA in MLB at 5.34 while having allowed the second-most homers in MLB at 134.
In a battle to see which pitching staff would sink to expectation, the Mariners won.
Right-hander Gerson Bautista replaced Milone for the sixth inning. The hard-throwing right-hander walked the first batter he faced, which is never optimal. With two outs, he gutted an 0-2 breaking ball that Anthony Santander turned into a two-run homer and a 5-1 lead.
“Pitch selection today was maybe not the greatest at times,” Servais said. “He went to a breaking ball and left it right there where Santander could put a good swing on it. Some of it’s pitch selection and more importantly it’s execution of the pitches and being able to adjust off that.”
The Mariners cut the lead to 5-2 in the bottom of the inning when Domingo Santana led off with a double and later scored on an error. That was as close as Seattle would get.
Dan Altavilla allowed a leadoff single to start the seventh that later came around to score.
Baltimore put the game out of reach against lefty Jesse Biddle in the eighth. Biddle allowed a leadoff single and walked the next batter. With one out, Keon Broxton singled to left to score both runs.
Bautista, Altavilla and Biddle all have big-league experience and more than enough stuff with fastballs that sit in the mid-90s. Bautista and Altavilla can up theirs even higher.
“Velocity is great if you know where it’s going,” Servais said. “It’s about commanding the baseball at this level. Locating the baseball is really key. You have to get ahead in the count.”
Servais has often said that they are the team of opportunity, particularly in the bullpen where they’ve been willing to take chances on pitchers that were minor-league signees or have been cast off or deemed unwanted by other organizations or acquired by other avenues.
Some like Austin Adams, Brandon Brennan and Anthony Bass have had success while others have failed to capitalize on the opportunity provided.
“It’s frustrating for all of us and certainly frustrating for them,” Servais said. “They have stuff. They have velocity and breaking pitches. But it’s the inconsistency of getting it into the strike zone. You have to control the zone. And a few of our guys haven’t done that. And it catches up to you.”
So what’s next?
“You try to stick with those guys as long as you can,” Servais said. “And if they can’t make adjustments, we’ll go elsewhere. That’s where we are at.”
Seattle tacked on a run in the eighth and a run in the ninth to make the score look somewhat more respectable.