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Table Setter: The Mariners need another hitter – before Canó returns

The Mariners' offense has relied too much on Nelson Cruz during a tough July. (AP)

The Mariners’ lead over the Oakland Athletics for the American League’s last playoff spot is a slim two games, and Tuesday’s MLB Trade Deadline is fast approaching.

Dipoto: ‘We are going to be selective’ ahead of MLB trade deadline

No time to waste – let’s get into this thing.

The Mariners need another hitter now.

The Mariners’ seven-run barrage in the first inning of Sunday’s 8-5 win over the Angels was like physically seeing a weight being lifted off the collective shoulders of the Seattle hitters. The final seven frames where they went scoreless and the bullpen briefly put the lead into jeopardy was a reminder of just how far in the woods the offense has been in July.

In 21 games since the start of the month, the Mariners are averaging just 3.48 runs per game. They’ve scored five runs or more just five times in that span (and are only 2-3 in those games), and their record of 8-12 in July is a big reason why the A’s have been able to narrow the gap between the two teams from 11 games on June 15 to just two.

It’s been clear during this slump that the Mariners are missing at least one hitter to help bring home the many runners being stranded on base. And while the easy answer is to say that Robinson Canó is that hitter, the fact is he won’t be back from his 80-game suspension for another two weeks after the trade deadline and there’s a very real concern the Mariners and their offense won’t be able to hold off the A’s until then.

First-time All-Star Mitch Haniger has a whopping three hits – all singles – since the All-Star break and is hitting just .186 this month (though his 10 walks and .342 on-base percentage are still nice). Kyle Seager still hasn’t broken out of his season-long slumber at the plate, and his power has been missing in July, too (just one homer since the end of June). Even Jean Segura has had his worst month with the bat, posting a .237 average and .587 OPS.

With those three all scuffling, a lot of responsibility has been left to Nelson Cruz, and while he picked up the pace in Anaheim with three home runs over the weekend, the Mariners still lost the series. The big guy needs some help, and it’s up to general manager Jerry Dipoto to go find it before it’s too late.

The Alex Colomé factor.

The one deadline-season trade Dipoto had made entering Monday was to get righty reliever Sam Tuivailala from the Cardinals. He’s an intriguing addition to the bullpen, boasting some nice numbers against right-handed hitters and being under club control through 2022, but the Mariners opted to not have him make his debut Sunday so that’s all I have to say about that.

One right-hander who did appear in Sunday’s game for the M’s, however, was another trade addition from earlier this year: setup man Alex Colomé. And after a tough June, it appears that the one-time All-Star is back in that kind of form.

Colomé hasn’t given up a run over his last 12 appearances, lowering his ERA from 4.86 to 3.60. He hasn’t given up multiple hits in any of those outings, either. And despite not recording a hold until his second appearance for Seattle on May 28, he has quickly racked up 17, good enough to tie for sixth in the American League.

With Colomé on track, the Mariners can effectively shorten games to seven innings, as closer Edwin Díaz is up to 39 saves and doesn’t look like he’s slowing down any time soon. Colomé’s success has also allowed manager Scott Servais to put Juan Nicasio into a role he’s better suited for, coming in when runners are on and the Mariners need to put an end to an opponent’s rally.

The back end of the Mariners’ bullpen looks solidified. Now if the offense can just get the relievers some leads.

The Félix problem.

The 2018 baseball season has a cruel sense of humor.

Félix Hernández, the standard bearer for the Mariners during so many losing seasons, the one pitcher you could always count on giving the M’s a chance to win when wins were so hard to come by, looks to be on his way out of the starting rotation at a time when the team is on the verge of finally ending its long and painful postseason drought.

Félix has never pitched in a playoff game, and even if Seattle does get to the postseason this year, there’s a very good chance that fact won’t change.

There’s really no argument to keep him in the rotation at this point. His ERA is 5.58 on the year. He’s had one quality start since mid-June. Sure, he has had a few good outings here and there this season, but that one big inning that has been his biggest issue has always been right around the corner.

Erasmo Ramirez’s return from injury is coming, and Félix is the most logical pitcher for him to replace.

Can you imagine that: Erasmo Ramirez, the better option to start for the Seattle Mariners over Félix Hernández?

Mariners weren’t interested in trading first baseman Ryon Healy