Once 11 games back for the second wild-card spot in mid-June, the Oakland A’s blasted Toronto to move into a tie with the Mariners, who got a lackluster performance from Wade LeBlanc in a loss to Houston.
One team gave up eight runs in a loss. The other team scored eight runs in a win. And their two very different outcomes have left them tied for the second wild-card spot in the American League.
Once 11 games back for that spot in mid-June, the Oakland A’s have been on a torrid run of wins and quality baseball since then, devouring the Mariners’ lead for that postseason spot. A decisive 8-3 win over the Blue Jays at the Coliseum improved the A’s record to 64-46.
Meanwhile, Seattle was slogging its way through a lackluster 8-3 drubbing by the Astros on a gorgeous afternoon at Safeco Field, resulting in a second straight series loss and falling to 63-45. It was the Mariners’ 13th loss in their past 20 games.
“We need to play better baseball,” manager Scott Servais said. “I’m not worried about really anyone else right now. We need to get back to playing like we are capable of playing. It hasn’t happened recently.”
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An Astros lineup without Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer — all dealing with injuries — roughed up Seattle starter Wade LeBlanc and reliever Nick Vincent for all of its runs, while the Mariners lineup, which was without Kyle Seager (paternity leave) and Ryon Healy (lower back stiffness), failed to score more than three runs in a game for the 16th time since July 1 — a span of 24 games.
“No excuses,” Servais said. “They didn’t have their full squad out there either. But they found a way to get it done. We’ve got to wash this one away and get back to winning series.”
Since June 14, the A’s have rolled to a 29-10 record to push themselves even with Seattle. During that same span, the Mariners have gone 19-20, and just 10-14 since July 1. An offense that’s averaging just over three runs per game is showing only minimal signs of finding some life. Will it come to life with a four-game series vs. the Blue Jays starting on Thursday?
“We’ve got to do more offensively,” Servais said. “We’ve certainly got the talent in here to do it. We’ve done it for stretches before. But it has to start here with the next series.”
The Mariners had pulled within three games of the Astros in the AL West standings with Monday night’s 2-0 shutout win. But Houston outscored them 13-5 over the next two games to push the lead back to five games and serve a reminder about the pecking order in the division.
“It was a tough series,” Servais said. “After winning the first game, you feel pretty good about where we were at. But the next two nights, we just didn’t get it done. We’ve got back into winning-the-series mode. You hear me talk often about that’s the goal. You have to win them. And when you win the first game and lose the next couple, it’s a pit in your stomach.”
While the hopes and dreams of a division title might still remain for the Mariners in some corners of their minds, the bigger concern is losing a postseason spot that seemed inevitable in June and prolonging a streak of 16 seasons without a playoff appearance dating back to 2001.
With 54 games remaining in the season, including 10 against the A’s, there’s still plenty of baseball left to be played. The bigger issue is the Mariners’ level of play. The offense has been sparse, middle relief sketchy and defense spotty. There have been brief appearances of the team that roared to that strong start in the first three months of the season, but nothing sustained.
“We’ll have a good game here or there, but we need to start putting some streaks together of just quality game after game,” Servais said.
LeBlanc struggled through one of his worst outings since joining the rotation. The finesse lefty simply couldn’t keep the ball off Houston hitters’ barrel, going 4 1/3 innings and allowing seven runs on 10 hits with three strikeouts to fall to 6-2.
“Today wasn’t very good all the way around,” he said. “It sucks to have a team in it and fighting for it and you come out and put up a game like that today. But it’s one of those things that happens in baseball. You flush it and move on.”
The bombardment started with two outs in the second inning with Marwin Gonzalez whacking his first of two solo homers off LeBlanc for a 1-0 lead. A J.D. Davis single was followed by a two-run homer from outfielder Jake Marisnick, who was just called up from Class AAA.
“My arm felt a little slow and the finish wasn’t there at the end,” he said. “That takes life off pitches and takes movement off pitches, which means they are hit.”
The Mariners got two of those runs back against Houston starter Dallas Keuchel in the bottom of the inning on unexpected RBI singles from Andrew Romine and Zach Vincej, who were playing in place of Healy and Seager. A chance for more runs ended when Dee Gordon’s hard line drive up the middle was snagged for an inning-ending double play.
The Mariners would get just one more run off Keuchel — a solo blast from Nelson Cruz in the sixth inning.
But the Astros piled them on against LeBlanc and later Vincent. Gonzales smashed his second solo homer with one out in the fourth to make it 4-2. LeBlanc wouldn’t get out of the fifth. After giving up a one-out single to lefty Josh Reddick that made it 5-2, Servais went to Vincent. The veteran right-hander got up 2-2 on Max Stassi, but a cutter on the outside part of the plate was hammered over the wall in deep center for a three-run homer to make it 8-2.
“For as many good outings as Wade LeBlanc has had, the Astros have been tough on him,” Servais said. “They wait him out. He’s got to pitch on the edges. And today, he seemed to be a little off or in the middle of the plate and they did some damage.”
In two starts and two relief appearances, totaling 12 1/3 innings pitched, the Astros have scored 14 runs on 22 hits with five homers off of LeBlanc.
“They seem like they are on everything I throw,” he said. “It’s one of the things I want to get in video room and see if they have something on me. Or maybe they are just one of those teams and maybe I’m one of those guys they feel comfortable against. I need to find something that works and maybe not do the same thing I did today.”