Drayer: Mariners happy with 1st half success, but Servais wants to get back to ‘playing carefree’ after skid
The Mariners 1-5 road trip was a terrible end to what otherwise had been a terrific – and for most unexpected – first half. Six days, however, does not a season make and Scott Servais’ focus before the game Sunday was on the entirety of what we have seen play out over the last 3 1/2 months.
“I think we’ve had an awesome first half of the season,” Servais said. “It’s a credit to our players. We’ve certainly faced some adversity – injuries, losing Robbie (Canó) and things like that. So to be in this position, I couldn’t be any happier.
“Now I say that and you’re always a little disappointed because we’re in a little bit of a swoon and haven’t played that well recently,” he continued. “But you have to look at the big picture here. You have to stand back and say, ‘When we left Peoria, what were we shooting for? What were we hoping for?'”
Servais had a brief meeting with his team after the 4-3 loss Sunday in Denver before he spoke with the media for the last time before the All-Star break. Losing eight of 11 is not how anyone wanted to go into the break but he wanted to make sure their focus was in the right place. What we saw in the last week was not representative of what this team is.
Dee Gordon, for one, did not need to be reminded.
“Nobody in this room is worried at all,” he said. “It’s baseball. You are not going to win every game. We went to Boston and stuff and lost like five out of six and then won eight or nine in a row. It’s baseball. They (opposing teams) are big leaguers, too.”
Losing James Paxton in the first inning of his start against the Angels, having to go with a spot starter up from Triple-A in the opener against the Rockies and not having Nelson Cruz in the lineup for three days in an NL park certainly put the Mariners behind the 8-ball in their final road trip before the break. Say what you will about catcher ERA and Mike Zunino’s importance behind the plate, but the team is 37-18 when he starts a game behind the plate, 21-20 when he doesn’t. Since Zunino was placed on the DL July 5 with a deep bone bruise, they have gone 3-7.
After the break the Mariners are expected to get Paxton, Félix Hernández and Zunino back healthy. Starting pitching has been the foundation of the Mariners’ formula for success this year and we did see that disrupted in July. We also saw a stumble by the offense, however, and going forward they will need to score more than the 3.08 runs per game they have averaged this month so far.
The break should help Gordon in particular. While he hasn’t talked about the impact his fractured toe has had on his game, the story may be in the numbers. Prior to going on the DL with the toe injury, Gordon hit .304/.330/.386 with 16 stolen bases in 45 games. Since returning he has hit just .260/.271/.305 with six stolen bases in 41 games. It’s unlikely the toe is completely healed, and if it isn’t, four days without baseball activity should help accelerate the process – particularly for Gordon, who has continued to play all out.
The Mariners need Gordon on base, and they need him and others running. With Canó out of the lineup for another month, it is an area that needs improvement, according to Servais.
“We have got to get back to playing carefree, playing aggressive, running the bases, taking advantage of what other teams are giving us,” he said. “I think we came out of the chute really aggressive early in the season, April and May. Dee was on base a lot creating havoc. (Jean) Segura hasn’t been as big a weapon on the bases that he can be. The Ben Gamels, the guys who run can run a little bit. Haniger hasn’t run a lot for a number of reasons. There’s more that we can do there to create more opportunities offensively.”
Things will move quickly after the break. All but 24 of the 64 games remaining on the schedule are against division teams. The Mariners are spotted a three-game lead on the A’s in the second half with 10 games to play against them. With 13 games remaining against the Astros, they are within reach of the AL West lead.
It is hard to imagine that additions will not be made to the team both before and after the non-waiver trade deadline, but ultimately it will be the players who are on the roster today that have the biggest impact on the postseason fate of this team. And while they may have come up short in the performance department the last two weeks, according to Gordon, that is little more than a blip in on the baseball radar.
“We know what we have got in here,” he said. “We are together every day. We as a team grind together and nothing is going to separate us from grinding together or looking out for each other.”