Drayer: What Mariners’ brutal May means for their goals this season
May has not been kind to the Mariners.
They entered the month with a 15-12 record, just a game out of first place in the American League West, but after Sunday they sit just a game out of the cellar at 21-26.
On the heels of getting swept in back-to-back series and being on the wrong side of two no-hitters, the Mariners have a 6-14 May record so far, and it’s easy to understand the frustration and often ire of a fan base that has been starved for a playoff appearance for nearly two decades now.
It goes without saying but getting outscored 31-7 by the Padres does not a good weekend make. And scoreboard aside, for the Mariners the hits just kept coming. Not of the off-the-bat variety, mind you, but more players to the injured list.
Ah, the injured list. If there was any question why Sunday’s lineup resembled a split squad heading to Tempe in March, look no further than the injured list. And please, do take a look:
• Drew Steckenrider
• Will Vest
• Dylan Moore
• Ty France
• Evan White
• Casey Sadler
• Marco Gonzales
• Jake Fraley
• Ljay Newsome
• Nick Margevicius
• James Paxton
• Shed Long Jr.
• Ken Giles
• Andres Munoz
And come on down Kendall Graveman, who was placed on the IL just 40 minutes before first pitch Sunday, with manager Scott Servais confirming post-game that he had been placed on the IL for COVID-related reasons.
There is no question that, injuries or no injuries, the San Diego Padres are the far better team. They have stepped smack dab in the middle of the light at the end of their rebuild tunnel and currently are enjoying the best record in baseball (30-17). To compare the Mariners to this team in any sense other than what they hope to be at the end of their rebuild – and let’s be clear, they have a long way to go – would simply be unfair.
The concern now should not be about what the Mariners did this weekend or what their record is on May 24; rather, it should continue to be what they do moving forward. This season was never going to be judged on wins and losses. It was and continues to be about the development of young players, and along those lines, even in the worst of series, much can be learned.
“This is where you can evaluate – not just talent, but you can evaluate character, as well,” former MLB pitcher and current ROOT Sports analyst Ryan Rowland-Smith said Sunday on the 710 ESPN Seattle postgame show, adding that there is a lot going on for the team both on and off the field.
“I’ve been on some bad teams, and when you go through stretches like this, true colors of personalities come out,” he said. “If you really want to get a good look and snapshot into seeing what you are going to have as part of this core team and organization, who’s going to be on board, man, when you are going through it right now and you’ve got that pressure to succeed and win and you are not getting hits or you are not pitching well, how do you respond to that? I think this is just a smaller stretch in the grand scheme of things. You are talking about players developing, facing the best players in the world who are red-hot, the San Diego Padres. How do you respond to this?”
We shall see. There are injuries and hitting woes to overcome. What did Jarred Kelenic (.135 average through 10 games) get out of his “just watch a ballgame” day off on Sunday? Did he look across the field at Fernando Tatís Jr. and think that’s what he has been working toward? For what it’s worth, Tatís didn’t hit much better in his first 36 MLB at-bats (eight hits for a .222 average). For Kelenic, the series could serve as inspiration. He saw a different level of burying the opponent, up close and personal.
Kelenic is just getting started. For the rest, there is a big picture to keep in view. As much as the .198 team batting average stings now, the bigger and more important question will be where are Kyle Lewis, Evan White, Ty France and J.P. Crawford at the end of the season? Have Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn shown they can be members of a rotation that is expected to compete for the postseason the next five years? Does Logan Gilbert have a successful introduction to the big leagues? And can they ink Cal Raleigh into one of the catcher spots in 2022?
While the performance of the core players is important, when it comes to judging the success of the 2021 season, the team itself needs to show it can play good baseball win or lose, particularly in the second half. They need to show they are building toward a 2022 season that should have different expectations, and give no excuse not to make significant additions to take the next step. In order to get there, what we have seen in May has to be put behind them quickly.
Getting players back from the IL will help. A healthy Ty France, who is expected back early this week from his wrist injury, should be a boost to the lineup. The return of Marco Gonzales and original members of the bullpen from the IL should help the Mariners avoid long losing streaks. Having Shed Long Jr. and Jake Fraley available should hopefully help facilitate Triple-A tuneups for others where needed.
It has been a rough month and the offensive performance in particular has been concerning, to put it lightly, but it is only the second month of a six-month season. The original goals for the season are still within reach, but the clock is ticking.