The use of the word “embarrassing” raised a few eyebrows at the time. And coming from Nelson Cruz, it wasn’t false sentiment.
It’s the moment where the Mariners refused to use injuries or any other sort of excuse for their showings. Regardless of who was missing or who was being forced to play in their absence, the idea of being shut out on back-to-back days at the hitters’ paradise that is Fenway Park was something so implausible that it left the team to question itself and its motivation moving forward.
In the cramped visitor’s clubhouse at Fenway — the size of a small yet overpriced studio apartment in Seattle — the always upbeat Nelson Cruz couldn’t force a smile after a 6-0 loss on May 27. With a 3-0 loss the day before, the 2017 Mariners were the first team in club history to be held scoreless in consecutive games in Boston.
“We just have to change the attitude,” Cruz said that day. “Go out there with a chip (on our shoulder) and be proud of what we do. This is embarrassing. I don’t think we should be in this situation. I understand we have injuries and all of that. But there’s a point where we have to turn everything around.”
M’s schedule by the numbers
19 Home games for Seattle through July 31. They play 10 road games in that stretch and have the All-Star break.
22 Home games for Seattle from Aug. 1 to the end of the season. The Mariners are home for only seven games in August and play 33 road games the final nine weeks of the season.
The use of the word “embarrassing” raised a few eyebrows at the time. And coming from Cruz, it wasn’t false sentiment.
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“We haven’t scored a run in how many days?” Cruz added. “So, yes, it looks even worse because we haven’t been winning and now we cannot hit. We have to do better as a team.”
Since that game, the Mariners have done better.
Mariners manager Scott Servais has often called those back-to-back shutouts the team’s “rock bottom” moment of the season. The Mariners had fallen to 21-29 and had the worst record in the American League.
Seattle’s climb from that moment has been quicker than expected. It started with a win the following day, which jump-started a four-game winning streak. Seattle would go on to win 10 of its next 11 games to get back to .500. The Mariners offset a 3-4 road trip to Minnesota and Texas with a six-game winning streak.
Coming into Tuesday’s two-game series against the Phillies, the Mariners have gone 18-10 since May 27 and sit at 39-39, two games out of the second wild card. Of their 11 games leading into the All-Star break, only the Angels (40-39) have a winning record.
The run has largely been spurred by an offense that has shown the ability to put up runs in bunches while not being totally reliant on the home run.
Over the past 28 games, Seattle is averaging 6.1 runs per game, while hitting .297 as a team with a .360 on-base percentage and a .465 slugging percentage, 56 doubles, two triples and 35 homers.
“We’ve been playing very good baseball and kind of got our offense rolling here,” Servais said.
What’s gotten the offense rolling is a variety of contributors. A year ago, Seattle was totally dependent on the production of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager — specifically them hitting home runs. But the increased athleticism on the roster this season and unexpected contributions from others have loomed large in Seattle’s offensive resurgence. The Mariners can run the bases and manufacture runs while putting pressure on the opposing defense. And the bottom of the lineup is also producing.
Catcher Mike Zunino, who was optioned to Class AAA Tacoma to work on his hitting in early May, has been vital for the team’s success. With a revamped swing and a new approach to preparation, he’s hit at a level that few could have expected. He’s played in 24 of the last 28 games, hitting .354 with a .407 on-base percentage, a .756 slugging percentage, six doubles, nine homers and 31 runs batted in over that stretch.
Outfielder Ben Gamel, who started the season in Tacoma having lost the fourth outfielder job to Guillermo Heredia, has also been brilliant. With Mitch Haniger on the disabled list, Gamel stepped in and has secured an everyday outfield job in the process.
Playing in 27 of the 28 games, Gamel is hitting .404 with a .432 on-base percentage and .550 slugging percentage, eight doubles, a triple, two homers, 11 RBI and 24 runs scored. First baseman Danny Valencia was so unproductive early in the season that the team briefly brought up Daniel Vogelbach to platoon at the position. But after Vogelbach struggled, Valencia picked it up. He’s played in 26 of the previous 28 games, hitting .323 with a .368 on-base percentage and .458 slugging percentage, four doubles, three homers and 23 RBI.
Center fielder Jarrod Dyson has also come to life. With his playing time somewhat reduced, he’s still played in 25 of the 28 games and is hitting .302 with an .801 on-base plus slugging percentage, five doubles, a triple, two homers, 10 RBI and 17 runs scored.
Meanwhile, the trio of Cano, Cruz and Seager has combined to hit 23 doubles, 11 homers and drive in 60 runs over that span.
With Jean Segura and Haniger back, Seattle’s lineup is a combination of speed and power that hasn’t been this deep since the early 2000s. Some regression is expected. The Astros held the Mariners to two runs in the past two games — both losses. But the Mariners are still a long ways from rock bottom.