When we interviewed Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto last Thursday, even he talked about how streaky his team is. And like everyone else, he has no explanation for it.
In typical fashion, the Mariners went from winning nine of 10, to losing three of four, to destroying the Twins 14-3 Monday night in Minneapolis. In their previous four games they scored seven runs combined only to double that total in one game.
They went from going 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position Sunday afternoon in a 4-0 loss to the Blue Jays to 8 for 14 Monday night, collecting 19 hits overall. It’s in keeping with the season-long pattern. At one point in May, they scored nine runs in eight games, including one in five straight. Then they averaged eight runs a game for the next week.
So who the heck are they? When they’re on one of their hot streaks, the Mariners look like they’ll be in the playoffs and maybe even catch Houston in the AL West. When they’re in a cold spell, they look hopeless, so bad that you wonder why you thought they could be a playoff team.
Back and forth, forth and back – it’s one of the reasons why I continue to maintain they’re not quite good enough to end their 15-year playoff drought, projecting them to go 81-81 before the season started.
But since they’re the 2017 Mariners and I’m usually off-base with predictions, they’ll probably hang around as playoff contenders the rest of the year. Those who think they’ve got a good shot at it have reasons to believe:
• A lineup that is stronger with the return of Mitch Haniger, who went 4 for 6 Monday night, and Mike Zunino of all people. The Mariners’ catcher went 3 for 5 in the opener vs. the Twins, raising his average to .233.
• A lineup that will be stronger when Jean Segura returns, and after initial reports had him out for six to eight weeks with a high ankle sprain, the latest reports show him coming back as soon as this weekend at Texas.
• A rotation that will get Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma back next week, their top two starters last year.
• A bullpen that has posted the best ERA in baseball this month, highlighted by the return of Edwin Diaz as a shut-down closer.
• The Mariners are only 1 ½ games out of the second wild-card spot, and all of the other teams that are around .500 have their share of flaws too.
• After this road trip ends Sunday in Texas, the Mariners will play 16 of their next 19 at Safeco Field, which takes them up to the All-Star break. They’re 20-13 at home.
With Haniger, the Mariners now have four starting outfielders for three spots. Haniger will be the everyday right fielder, and it will be interesting to see how manager Scott Servais handles Jarrod Dyson, Guillermo Heredia and Ben Gamel.
I’m OK with the idea of starting Dyson in center field and platooning Heredia and Gamel in left. But I’d prefer to see all three youngsters in the outfield with Dyson getting spot starts, using him more frequently as a late-inning pinch-runner or pinch-hitter.
Dyson showed what his speed can do Saturday night, manufacturing a run on his own by stealing second, racing to third when the throw went into center field and scoring when the ball bounced past the Blue Jays’ center fielder.
Then again, Dyson is a veteran who has been through these battles before, having won a World Series with the Royals, so I’m probably not gauging the difference he makes as much as I should be.
When Hernandez and Iwakuma return, who would you demote or release among Yovanni Gallardo, Sam Gaviglio and Christian Bergman, understanding that two of the three have to go?
Gallardo seems to have one bad inning in every start, contributing to his ERA of 6.11. But like Dyson, he’s a veteran and has pitched a bit better of late.
Gaviglio has an ERA of 2.79, and Bergman, tonight’s starter against the Twins, has allowed three earned runs combined in his last three starts.
Numbers-wise, you’d have to think that Gallardo should be one of the two to be replaced, but I’m guessing he’ll stay, barring a bad outing Saturday at Texas.
The good news, for me, is if Felix and Iwakuma struggle or get hurt again, Gaviglio and Bergman will be even better equipped to fill in because of the major-league experience they’ve gained the last two months.
I like that the Mariners are in a position to withstand the possibility that Felix and Iwakuma will be so-so pitchers when they return. With the King, it’s the first year they don’t need him to be the ace to reach the playoffs, but they do need him to post the numbers of a third starter, a reasonable expectation at this stage in his career.
The Go 2 Guy also writes for SeattlePI.com and KitsapSun.com. You can reach Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo.