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Mariners Table Setter: What now for M’s after their most disappointing week of the season?

Ty France's Mariners lost two of three each to Baltimore and Texas. (Getty)

There’s no getting around it. The Mariners’ last week was their most disappointing of the season so far, especially considering how the previous month-plus of baseball had gone for them.

Sunday: Mariners fall to Rangers 10-2, drop series in Texas

Seattle has managed to stay above .500 every day since April 10, when they improved to 4-4 following an extra-innings win over the Minnesota Twins. But after dropping two of three each to a pair of the lesser teams in the American League – the Baltimore Orioles (15-19) and Texas Rangers (18-18) – the Mariners (18-17) are now in jeopardy of not just falling back to .500 but perhaps under it with a pair of tough series on the docket this week.

Before we look at who those two teams are, we need to acknowledge the shape the Mariners are in, because it’s not pretty and just as much of a reason why Seattle’s winning record will be at stake this week.

Can the Mariners end their roughest patch to date?

Pitching injuries have continued to pile up for the Mariners, and the surprisingly dominant bullpen is springing leaks as a result.

The relievers have had to do extra duty with James Paxton out for the season and Marco Gonzales and Nick Margevicius both on the injured list, and bullpen starts against both the Orioles and Rangers ended up as losses – both times because leads didn’t make it past Anthony Misiewicz in the eighth inning. And that’s not to pile on Misiewicz, who has had a great start to 2021, but it is worth pointing out that when seven relief pitchers are tasked with covering all nine innings of a game not once but twice in a week, it’s really rolling the dice counting on all of them having their best stuff those days.

Even with those defeats, the bullpen’s performance in general has continued to be strong – for now. Its health, like the starting rotation’s, is another story.

Over the last week, Seattle has lost three relievers to the IL (Casey Sadler, Keynan Middleton and Ljay Newsome), eating away at what has been the Mariners’ biggest strength during their impressive start to 2021. The good news is Kendall Graveman had another great showing to notch a save in Seattle’s one win in Texas, but he and his running mates aren’t enough to keep the team afloat, especially if injuries continue to be an issue.

A good sign is the Mariners at least found their bats over the weekend in Texas with 10 hits or more in each of the three games, which they really needed after their offensive woes were punctuated by Baltimore ace John Means’ no-hitter at T-Mobile Park last Wednesday. The gloves, however, undid some of the work the hitters did at the plate against the Rangers, which was a big factor in why Texas took the three-game series.

Luis Torrens’ gaffe on Saturday was… not great, especially since it cost the M’s a run in a game where Kyle Lewis was thrown out at the plate to end a one-run game. And on Sunday, the team’s three errors loomed large in a fairly demoralizing 10-2 loss, which was Seattle’s second defeat in as many days in a game where they had a lead in the fifth inning.

So now the Mariners head to Los Angeles to complete their season series with the defending world champion Dodgers (18-17) with two games at Dodger Stadium beginning Tuesday. At least LA is in pretty rough shape itself, having gone 4-13 since the two teams split two games in Seattle last month (the Mariners are 7-10 over the same period), but matching up against Walker Buehler and Julio Urías in the series is a tall task. After that, the M’s come home for four against Cleveland (18-14), which has remained a factor in the AL Central despite sending Francisco Lindor off to the Mets over the offseason.

This is going to be a big week for the Mariners, who will hit the 40-game threshold that has been talked about as a barometer for them this season. Their pitching staff is banged up, and they’re having trouble getting their bats, gloves and arms firing on all cylinders at the same time. Oh, and let’s not forget that with the minor league season moving into its second week, the calls from the fan base for players with names like Jarred, Logan and Cal to get a ticket north from Tacoma will probably only get louder with any M’s loss – not that that has anything to do with their development plans (or should, either).

What’s next for the Mariners? As rocky as the last week was, it might have to get even a little worse before it gets better. They’re still a rebuilding team and the previous two series showed that the growing pains aren’t gone yet. And while Jarred Kelenic has been putting on a show in Triple-A so far, this probably won’t be the week he’s brought up. The exciting part is that it will probably be more of a surprise to see him still in the minors by the start of June than it will be to see him get the call before then, however. Pull out your old Wilson Phillips CD (don’t act like you don’t have one, it sold over 8 million copies) and hold on for one more day (or a few weeks).

Not just their problem

Worried that the Mariners are striking out too much? That they just don’t seem to have the firepower to keep up with the teams that have good pitching?

Well, while the Mariners might be one of the teams struggling the most offensively this season, take some solace in that they are the rule and not the exception when it comes MLB hitters being overmatched by their competition.

Theo Epstein, the former baseball executive who was at the helm of both the Red Sox and Cubs when those teams broke their long championship droughts, was recently on The Bill Simmons Podcast to talk about how he’s trying to help MLB work out the kinks in the game in his role as a consultant. I found what Epstein had to say pretty fascinating, especially when it came to the league’s strikeout rate and how it actually compares with the best seasons ever put together by Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax and Dwight Gooden. And that’s not, like, talking specifically about the numbers being put up by guys like Jacob deGrom, Shane Bieber and Gerrit Cole. The league average for strikeout rate is up there with the best those all-time greats ever had. That’s startling, to say the least.

If you find a free 20 minutes and are OK with some colorful language, I highly recommend listening to what Epstein has to say about the state of the game, plus what is being tested and talked about to fix some of the things that are preventing baseball from being its best version (YouTube link is here). It might make you feel a little better about what you’re seeing from the Mariners’ offense, too.

This week’s Mariners schedule

All games and shows air live on 710 ESPN Seattle.

• Tuesday: Scott Servais Show, 1 p.m. on Jake & Stacy with Shannon Drayer
• Tuesday: Mariners at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m. (pregame show 6 p.m.)
• Wednesday: Mariners at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m. (pregame show 6 p.m.)
• Thursday: Jerry Dipoto Show, 8:30 a.m. on Danny & Gallant
• Thursday: Mariners vs. Cleveland, 7:10 p.m. (pregame show 6 p.m.)
• Friday: Mariners vs. Cleveland, 7:10 p.m. (pregame show 6 p.m.)
• Saturday: Mariners vs. Cleveland, 6:10 p.m. (pregame show 5 p.m.)
• Sunday: Mariners Magazine, 11 a.m.
• Sunday: Mariners vs. Cleveland, 1:10 p.m. (pregame show noon)

Follow Brent Stecker on Twitter.

Jerry Dipoto Show takeaways | Kelenic hits two homers in Triple-A debut