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Moore: Mariners’ rotation still has too many questions marks

Erasmo Ramirez allowed thee runs on five hits in 3 1/3 innings on Tuesday in his first start since re-joining the Mariners via a trade with Tampa Bay. (AP)

Here we go again, getting our hopes up for the Mariners, who have won four in a row and moved within 1.5 games of the second wild-card spot.

For the second time this season, they are two games above .500, and they’ve put some distance between themselves and the Orioles, Angels and Twins, who are all at least 3.5 games from the second wild-card spot.

It’s a three-team race right now for that spot, featuring Seattle and Tampa Bay at 55-53 and Kansas City at 55-50. They probably won’t catch the Red Sox or Yankees – one of those teams will win the American League East and the other is most apt to earn the first wild-card spot.

Mariners hang on to beat Texas for fourth straight win

After Wednesday night’s game at Texas, they’ll head to Kansas City for four games and could be 1.5 games behind the Royals or maybe just half a game. They could overtake the Royals by going 3-1 in the series, the same position they were in two weeks ago when the Yankees showed up at Safeco Field. But they went 1-3 in that series, keeping up with the season-long pattern.

I’ve never seen a team that can be so hot and cold like the Mariners this year. It’s week to week, sometimes day to day. The same team that scored one run five games in a row can explode for 10 runs, too. In the last 19 games, they’re averaging six runs a game.

Right when you think they’re taking off, they go on a losing streak. Right when you think they’re toast, they reel off a winning streak. What makes you think things will change now? I’d bet your house and mine on the Mariners going 1-3 at Kansas City, winning only when James Paxton starts on Friday.

I want them to end their 15-year playoff drought but I continue to think they’re not good enough to do it because of their rotation. If they make it, they’ve got a good shot of advancing with Paxton starting against the Yankees or the Red Sox. Bob Dutton of The News Tribune tweeted that Paxton is two-thirds of an inning short of qualifying to have the lowest ERA in the AL at 2.68. Imagine a playoff game at Fenway Park with Paxton facing Chris Sale.

But they probably won’t reach that point because of the other four starters. Felix Hernandez has turned into a No. 2 guy who looks like a No. 1 guy once in a while but more often shows up as a No. 4 or No. 5 guy. It’s the strangest thing. I know we’re supposed to appreciate this new version of Felix, who pitches to contact more than he ever has before. I have problems with this new reality. Too frequently he pitches to hard contact. Reality is, he can’t be counted on to give you a quality start every fifth day.

Ariel Miranda, the No. 3 starter, has been OK. Actually, you might say he’s been better than OK. He struck out 10 Mets last Friday. But he also has a 5.29 ERA over his last three starts.

Erasmo Ramirez is the new No. 4 starter for the time being. He’ll probably be a long reliever whenever the team feels like Marco Gonzales is ready to be promoted from Tacoma. Gonzales, acquired in a trade with St. Louis last month, has won his first two starts with the Rainiers.

Whether it’s Ramirez or Gonzales, the guy with the potentially higher ceiling, I’ll have doubts every time they’re on the mound. Why? Because I’m old and cynical for starters, but also because a retread like Ramirez isn’t going to cut it, and Gonzales has a 5.53 ERA in the 12 major-league games he’s pitched in. I’m optimistic about Gonzales next year. To expect him to jump in and be a positive factor in a playoff race is unrealistic. I’m more optimistic about Gonzales and Andrew Moore being fixtures in the rotation next year.

Then you have Yovanni Gallardo as the No. 5 guy for the second time this year. He looks better than he did the first time around, which led to a demotion to the bullpen, but can he hold up? If I had to bet everything I have on “yes” or “no,” I’d bet it all on “no,” but maybe that’s just me. Maybe you’ve seen something more encouraging in Gallardo than I have.

Drayer: For Felix and Beltre, congratulations could not wait

There’s plenty to like with the Mariners, and as I’ve mentioned before, I want to get fully on board with them because of their speed and athleticism, their lineup, their bullpen, their closer, their outfield defense, their ability to create runs or produce them in a hurry with power.

I’m excited that Leonys Martin is back and giving the team a lift, though he was picked off in Tuesday night’s game, the latest example of the season-long base-running issues with this team.

You could also tell me that the August schedule of 20 games on the road and seven at home isn’t so daunting anymore. That’s because the Mariners have won 10 of their last 12 road games and proven over and over again that they just might be a better road team than home team.

I’ll still be surprised if they are in the wild-card race at the start of September after a 12-game road trip that ends August with series against the Rays, Braves, Yankees and Orioles.

I love what manager Scott Servais is doing, embracing the awful schedule by having “Bring It” T-shirts made for his players. In essence, he’s saying bring it on, put this schedule in front of us and we’re going to tackle it head on. There’s a chance that it could further unify a team that already seems close-knit as it is.

But do you think the Mariners can go 31-23 the rest of the way? That would get them to 86 wins, and I’m guessing that would be enough to get the second wild-card spot or at least a one-game playoff for the second spot.

Because of the August schedule and rotation, I don’t think they can do it, but that might be a good thing, because it sure seems like I’m wrong a lot.

The Go 2 Guy also writes for and You can reach Jim at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo.