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Table Setter: Now, more than ever, the Mariners need Kyle Seager

Mariners 3B Kyle Seager broke out with a two-homer game on Sunday. (AP)

The Mariners put their five-game losing streak to bed on Sunday, with Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager giving the struggling offense a massive boost by combining for all six runs driven in during a 6-3 win over Toronto.

Canó to start rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma

But now that the skid is over, you can see the damage it did to Seattle’s playoff chances just by looking at the standings. The Oakland Athletics have overtaken the Mariners in the race for the second wild card, and entering Monday the M’s are 2 ½ games back of the American League’s last playoff spot.

Here are three things to keep in mind this week about the Mariners.

It’s Kyle’s turn.

The Mariners have six offensive players who have made an All-Star team in their career, and nearly all of them have had stretches of All-Star-caliber play that helped carry the team at some point during this strong 2018 campaign.

Mitch Haniger had big months of April and June.

Robinson Canó was well on his way to a ninth All-Star selection when he broke his wrist and was suspended in May.

Jean Segura kept the team going after Canó’s suspension.

Dee Gordon has proven he can be a game-changer atop the lineup with his speed and energy.

Nelson Cruz has essentially been the entire Mariners offense since the All-Star break.

But then there’s Kyle Seager.

The one-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner hasn’t had that stretch this season where he just takes off at the plate – his highest average for a month was .253 in April – and he’s still scuffling with a .230 average and .280 on-base percentage four months into the campaign.

As evidenced by the past week, it’s asking too much for Cruz alone to put the offense on his back. The big guy needs some help, and in Sunday’s victory over the Blue Jays – or the only game the Mariners have won since last Monday – that’s exactly what he got.

Seager smacked a pair of solo home runs, combining with Cruz for all of Seattle’s run production in the win and hammering home just how important it is to have at least two hitters producing at all times to stay on track.

The Mariners’ offense has struggled so much that it has magnified whenever anything else has gone wrong, whether it’s a stumble in the bullpen, a few errors or even just a starting pitcher having one bad inning. A few more runs on the board each day could erase all of that and get Seattle moving in the right direction, and it sure seems like Seager is a prime candidate to step up. Sunday was a good start.

Where does Erasmo go?

Last week, the big question was whether Félix Hernández’s career as a starter was about to end. This week, the big question is … whether Félix Hernández’s career as a starter is about to end.

Félix’s performance last Thursday, giving up two runs over five innings in a loss to Toronto, was just enough to give him one more shot at staying in the rotation. But Erasmo Ramirez is healthy and almost back from his rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma, and the Mariners have to decide where they’re going to put him.

Ramirez has bounced between the rotation and bullpen throughout his career, but entering this season he was expected to be the No. 5 starter for Seattle. Injuries got in the way of that, and Wade LeBlanc seized an opportunity to take the open spot. But now that Ramirez’s return is imminent and Félix owns a 5.49 ERA, will the Mariners really put Ramirez in the bullpen that just added three new arms and keep starting Félix every fifth day?

I wouldn’t count on it. And I’m still not sure what that means for the rest of Félix’s season.

An opportunity, but a slim margin for error.

The Mariners trail the A’s by 2 ½ games, and they’re also just 6 ½ back of the AL West-leading Houston Astros. That means the 10-game road trip that starts Monday night in Texas is going to be plenty interesting as it pertains to the playoff race.

After three games with the Rangers, the Mariners go to Houston for a four-game set at Minute Maid Park. That presents a huge opportunity for Seattle, who could make up some series ground with a good performance in the series. And as bad as the Mariners have played since the All-Star break, the Astros haven’t been much better.

The Astros had a five-game losing streak of their own that they snapped last week, and there’s some serious questions about how harmonious things will be in their clubhouse after general manager Jeff Luhnow’s mind-numbingly short-sighted decision to trade for closer Roberto Osuna. The Houston franchise cut ties earlier this year with a minor league player who had been videotaped assaulting his girlfriend, an incident that pitchers Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers were particularly outraged about. So bringing in Osuna, who at the time of the trade was serving a 75-game suspension for violating the Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy, raised a lot of eyebrows. Osuna might help the Astros solve a problem in their bullpen, but it could also cause another one in the clubhouse. You can’t blame Houston’s players if they’re disgusted in Luhnow’s trade, either.

After Seattle’s four games in Houston, they’ll move on to three games in Oakland, where they’ll have yet more opportunities to gain ground in the playoff race. The only problem there is the A’s have been the hottest team in baseball, going 12-4 since the All-Star break and 33-10 since June 16 – hence why they went from 11 back of Seattle in the playoff race to 2 ½ in front.

If the Mariners are serious about ending their 17-year playoff drought, this road trip almost certainly needs to be a success. And if it is, there’s going to be a really interesting three-way race the rest of the way competing for two postseason spots out in the AL West.

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