Last week I wrote about blaming Robinson Canó if the Mariners don’t make the playoffs. We’ve seen the offense without him, and aside from the 6-3 victory over the Blue Jays on Sunday, the bats have been quiet – during their five-game losing streak, the Mariners scored 12 runs.
It’s almost gotten comical, but no one’s laughing. Toronto’s Marco Estrada entered Saturday night’s game with a 4.90 ERA and no-hit the Mariners through 6 1/3 innings.
Their 11-game lead over the A’s evaporated in six weeks, and now the Mariners are 2 1/2 games behind an Oakland team that has won 34 of its last 44 games, including consecutive sweeps over the Blue Jays and Tigers. A wild card berth and end to the 17-year playoff drought has gone from nearly certain to pretty unlikely in the last two weeks.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a Mariners’ season like this one, and I’m old enough to have seen them all.
Usually you know if they’re going to be bad or good or in between, and occasionally you’re surprised by a team that exceeded or fell below expectations. But this team? In the first half of the season, you watched them and felt like they would always figure out a way to win, even if they trailed. They had a terrific record in one-run games and were unbeaten in extra innings.
Now you watch them and wonder if they’ll ever win again, like Saturday night against Estrada or Friday night against a rookie or Thursday night against a Triple-A lifer that shut them out for six innings. It was almost surprising bordering on shocking when they collected six runs in a single game on Sunday, sparked by a two-run tie-breaking homer by Nelson Cruz, which we’re used to, and two homers from Kyle Seager, which we’re not.
Remember when the season started? There were concerns about the rotation and maybe even the bullpen, but no one seemed worried about the lineup. I was in that camp, thinking the Mariners would have no problems scoring with the deepest lineup they’d had in years. On Sunday, however, their 7-8-9 hitters were Chris Herrmann, Guillermo Heredia and Andrew Romine.
It’s interesting to note that on the same night that Estrada was handcuffing the Mariners, Ben Gamel was going 4-for-5 for the Tacoma Rainiers. When the Mariners acquired Cameron Maybin last week to play center field and Gamel was sent to Tacoma instead of Heredia, I heard the rationale of keeping Heredia even though he had only been hitting .180 since June 1 – he’s a better defensive outfielder than Gamel and a better fit for a platoon with Denard Span in left field.
If you ask me, the Mariners are guilty of overthinking this move – there’s just no way that Heredia is going to be more valuable with his run prevention in center field as a backup or a platoon player in left field to warrant keeping him over Gamel, who was 10 for his last 26 when he was sent down. When you’re a team that’s struggling to hit, why would you get rid of a guy who’s hitting?
And as for these relievers that GM Jerry Dipoto brought in last week, are Sam Tuivailala, Adam Warren and Zach Duke better than what you already had in the bullpen? I’ll give you Warren, and I’ll give you a “yes” when it comes to Juan Nicasio, as in “yes, almost every other reliever on a major league team is better than the Mariners’ disappointing right-hander who was thankfully placed on the 10-day disabled list with a sore knee over the weekend.”
But sometimes I wonder if Dipoto does too much tinkering and should leave well enough alone, while acknowledging that if it weren’t for some of his major moves, we wouldn’t be talking about a team that is still in playoff contention.
The Mariners, I’m thinking, were never as good as the team that was 24 games over .500 but aren’t as bad as the team that has gone 8-15 in the last 23 games. And it stands to reason that as unpredictable and topsy-turvy as this season has been, wouldn’t it be appropriate if Canó returns to the rescue?
The Mariners’ former second baseman – I say “former” because when he returns, it sounds like he’ll be a utility starter at first, second, third and DH – was suspended for 80 games for violating MLB’s drug policy. He’ll be back next Tuesday, on Aug. 14 to be exact, in uniform for the second game of a three-game series in Oakland.
By then, the way the Mariners are going, they’ll probably be six games behind the A’s, and all hope will be seemingly lost. Everyone will be focused on the Seahawks as they prepare for the regular season. The Mariners will be done, toast, adios amigo, and some will ask if Dipoto and manager Scott Servais should have gotten contract extensions after all.
But here comes Robbie. Can you see him? He’s over there on the white horse, chewing bubble gum and spitting sunflower seeds. He’s not galloping back, he’s trotting back, just like he does on grounders to second. And even if he’s still taking his time, even if his excuses are full of holes, won’t it be great to see him again?
I picture a scenario in which the Mariners are given up for dead, and Canó revives his teammates with a triumphant return, making up for his absence by hitting .400 in the last quarter of the season, smiling his way back into our baseball hearts as the Mariners overtake the A’s in the final week.
You call it a pipedream, I call it possible.