Drayer: Mariners need to find their edge to end up-and-down trend
The word disappointing summed up the end to the Mariners’ homestand well.
It was the word manager Scott Servais used to describe the two-game sweep Seattle fell victim to at the hands of the team with the worst record in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies. While any team on any day can come away with the win in baseball, the two games against the Phillies were not tip-the-cap games.
We have seen the ups and downs from this club all year long, with injuries and travel playing a legitimate role in a number of the struggles. To this point it has been the mother of all roller-coaster seasons. Adjustments have had to been made on the fly, most notably with the pitching staff. Surprises of the good variety have arisen, but at the end of the day the team is 39-41 heading into an important series in Anaheim, with June being as wild as any other month this season.
Sure, we enjoyed talking about the team owning the best or near-best offense in baseball for the majority of June, but the consistency has not been there. We saw this team win five straight, then turn around and lose seven of 10. That was followed up by the longest winning streak of the year – six games – and then four straight losses. With the offense now healthy and the return of Felix Hernandez, I think it is fair to say it is go time, but for the last four games of the homestand the team was stuck on the launch pad.
Servais, who has had the mammoth job of keeping this team out of crisis mode all season long, sounded ready to raise the bar following the 5-4 loss to the Phillies on Wednesday.
“We need to play better,” he stated. “We are not playing good right now. It doesn’t matter who you are playing in this league if you are not on top of your game you are going to struggle. We should have played better; we didn’t get it done. There is not much more you can say.”
There should be no looking around for internal help at this point. Felix is back, but Hisashi Iwkauma’s return is not on the near horizon and the Drew Smyly situation has been defined. The offense is healthy and the team has three established starting pitchers, with Ariel Miranda earning the right to be grouped with Felix and James Paxton even though he is still developing.
This is their team for now. This is the team that needs to give general manager Jerry Dipoto a reason to make moves for the now in the next month. This is the team that needs to prove that it is more than a .500 club.
Servais is asking for more. He asked for more from his closer, taking the kid gloves off for a moment when he took Edwin Diaz out of the game Tuesday night after he failed to get through the ninth inning of a game the Mariners were trailing. While acknowledging that it is not uncommon to see closers struggle in non-save situations, at this point of Diaz’s development Servais wanted to see him get something out of the opportunity to pitch.
“I had a few words on the mound,” he said. “You have to have your edge. You cannot let your guard down. In this league it will get you.”
Servais backed up the harsher words by expressing confidence in his young closer, telling him to get over it quick because he would be out there the next day. The next day Diaz was in fact back out there, this time in a save situation with a one-run lead. While the intensity was there, the game plan was not.
Though Diaz had a good slider Wednesday afternoon, he inexplicably went fastball-heavy, throwing six straight to Tommy Joseph to lead off the inning. The sixth which was put over the fence. He later threw four straight fastballs to Andrew Knapp, and the fourth resulted in the go-ahead run.
The performance was head-scratching, and it followed up a start where Felix admitted he struggled to get going in the first three innings. That was in part because it was an early afternoon start, and Felix said that a third inning home run by Ty Kelly “woke him up.”
I think it is a fair expectation near the midpoint of the season for Servais to not have his starter need to be woken up and for his closer to realize he cannot throw just fastballs, particularly if he isn’t hitting his spots with them. I think there is a good chance both players realize that too.
It was just one game and both players have done good things for this club this year, and no doubt they will continue to do so, but that edge that Servais was talking about needs to be there each time out if the Mariners are to get safely past the .500 mark and stay there. The same holds true for the hitters, as well.
The majority of the Mariners season to this point has been about overcoming adversity, and kudos to them for doing exactly that. The injury hits were unimaginable and the bounce-backs from a couple of rock-bottoms impressive. That shouldn’t be the norm, however, and perhaps it is hard to get out of that mode.
This lineup can be formidable – we’ve seen it. This rotation can be enough for now, and we’ve seen that too. There is talent and stuff in the bullpen.
Time to put the roller coaster in park.