BRENT STECKER

Mariners stumble to start ‘easy’ part of schedule, need to flip switch

Aug 14, 2022, 5:25 PM | Updated: 6:51 pm

Mariners Mitch Haniger...

Mitch Haniger looks on as umpire Clinton Vondrak calls a third strike to end the Sunday's Mariners loss. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

The supposedly easy part of the Mariners’ schedule is here. The version of the Mariners we’ve become accustomed to seeing the last few months, however, wasn’t present this weekend.

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After Seattle’s 14-game winning streak into the All-Star break, two things were known about the remainder of their slate. It was going to get much easier, but first it was going to get harder. And the Mariners actually did fine during the harder part, going 10-10 over a stretch where they played the two best teams in the American League, the Yankees and Astros, a combined total of 13 times.

Oddly enough, the M’s won both series they had with the AL East-leading Yankees, but it turns out they’re having trouble with division opponents. Sure, they swept the Rangers in three games at home, but otherwise they were 3-6 against the Astros and Angels. Not great, but nothing worth sounding an alarm about.

Well, after dropping two of three to the Rangers in Texas over the weekend, keep that alarm handy.

The Mariners went into Texas as healthy as they’ve been all season. Mitch Haniger returned on Aug. 6 from three months out with a high-ankle sprain, reliever Diego Castillo and utility man Dylan Moore followed on Wednesday, and J.P. Crawford, Ty France and Jesse Winker have all put minor ailments behind them at least to the point where they can play on a regular basis. Then on Friday, rookie All-Star Julio Rodríguez was activated along with new backup catcher Curt Casali from the injured list.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? And the most immediate results were good. The Mariners breezed by the Rangers 6-2 on Friday night, with Rodríguez and Haniger both having multi-hit nights.

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The rest of the weekend, however, was frustrating and somewhat out of character for Seattle. Defensive mistakes were the story Saturday, a 7-4 loss. And on Sunday, the Mariners handed a 3-3 game to the bullpen in the seventh inning, which you would think is a recipe for success against the Rangers. It wasn’t this time, and the M’s fell 5-3 on a day when they managed just four hits.

“Not how we wanted the series to end up, obviously,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said to reporters after Sunday’s game. “… We’ve got to regroup, go over to Anaheim, get back on track offensively. … It’s disappointing – it’s not the end of the world – but we’ve got to get back offensively. You gotta hit on the road to win, I’ve always said that, and we’ve got to get back to doing those things.”

Things are about to get a bit unscientific here, but over the past two seasons, the Mariners have been a team that has thrived on chemistry and good vibes. They struggled to find that earlier this season, but when they did, it resulted in the longest winning streak the franchise has seen since the last time it made the playoffs.

It hasn’t been long since that streak, but a lot has changed since then, so it would not be surprising if the M’s are once again in a spot where they’re trying to find their identity. With the additions at the trade deadline and returns from injuries, there’s been a revolving door of sorts in the clubhouse. Players who had to step while the roster was depleted, such as Adam Frazier, are in different roles. The rotation was was boosted by the acquisition of All-Star Luis Castillo, but it was also shuffled with Chris Flexen landing in the bullpen.

The M’s look better on paper, but some things are different, so it’s understandable if this is an adjustment period. It’s just not particularly timely.

Maybe the Mariners like to play with their backs against the wall, or at least got used to it. That would certainly explain their epic 13-inning win over the Yankees last Tuesday led by Luis Castillo’s eye-popping Seattle debut, then the thrilling comeback that followed next day, both of which were played before the return of Rodríguez. Their schedule doesn’t have a lot of opportunities left for them to say “I told you so,” though. This is where they just need to take care of business and beat the teams they’re supposed to beat.

The good news is Seattle still holds a playoff spot, and yes, the remaining schedule favors them over their competition for the AL’s wild card spots, especially when it comes to the teams from the AL East. They need to play more like that team they look like on paper now, and maybe that’s their next challenge.

It’s one thing to prove people wrong. It’s another to then prove the converted right. If that’s a switch that needs to be flipped, now’s the time for the Mariners to do it.

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