Mariners Breakdown: Struggles continue in rough homestand

Jul 8, 2024, 8:26 AM | Updated: 9:59 pm

Seattle Mariners Luke Raley Baltimore Orioles 2024...

Luke Raley of the Seattle Mariners reacts to striking out against the Baltimore Orioles on July 3. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

A little less than three weeks ago, the Seattle Mariners were the hottest team in baseball.

Logan Gilbert named Mariners’ lone All-Star representative

They had just rattled off a 17-5 stretch and were a season-best 13 games over .500. They held a commanding 10-game lead atop the American League West, which marked their largest division lead since 2001. At that moment, they looked like legitimate contenders for a top-two seed in the AL playoffs.

It’s been tough sledding since then.

The Mariners suffered their sixth consecutive series loss on Sunday, falling 5-4 to the Toronto Blue Jays in a 10-inning contest filled with missed opportunities. It capped a disappointing 3-6 homestand at T-Mobile Park, where Seattle had gone 27-12 over the first half of the season.

Since their high-water mark on June 19, the Mariners have lost 12 of their past 17 games. Their offensive struggles have gotten even worse. And that once-massive lead atop the AL West? It’s almost entirely gone, with the hard-charging Houston Astros now right on their heels.

Standings update

The Mariners (49-43) are clinging to a two-game lead atop the AL West over the second-place Astros (46-44), who won 13 of 15 games before dropping the final two games of their weekend series against the Minnesota Twins. Seattle is six games ahead of the third-place Texas Rangers (42-48).

Given the current state of the AL, the Mariners might have to win the division just to get into the playoffs. Seattle currently has the same record as the Kansas City Royals, who are 1.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox for the AL’s third and final wild-card spot.

“The first half of a major league season is about setting yourself up and putting yourself in a position to do something special,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “You can’t win the division in the first half, but you can put yourself in a position to do some big things in the second half, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.

“Now, we’ve gotta get better. We know that. … We are in a position to do some really big things here, but it’s gotta be more consistent offensively as we get into the second half.”

Hitting woes continue

It probably sounds like a broken record at this point, but Seattle continues to sputter at the plate. In fact, things have gotten even worse over the past few weeks.

Since June 19, the Mariners have an MLB-worst .194 batting average – which is 18 points below any other team over that span. They have been held to three runs or fewer in 11 of their past 17 games, while averaging just 3.2 runs per game over that stretch. And the strikeout woes have persisted, with Seattle having gone 12 straight games with 11-plus punchouts.

Even in the few recent games the Mariners have hit the ball well, they’ve struggled to capitalize. That was particularly evident in Sunday’s extra-inning loss, when they had 10 hits but left a season-high 15 runners on base. The Mariners loaded the bases in the eighth, ninth and 10th innings, but failed to score all three times. Since June 19, they are hitting just .165 with runners in scoring position, while striking out 31.7% of the time, according to Fangraphs.

Perhaps the most telling stat: Seattle didn’t allow more than five runs in a game all homestand, and yet came away with just three wins over the nine games.

“We pitched very well in this homestand,” Servais said. “We were in all the games. We were right there. It’s a matter of getting the big, timely hit. … We just didn’t execute. We didn’t come through late in the game. If you don’t come through late in the game, you’re not gonna win them. I don’t care how good your pitching is – you’ve gotta do something offensively, and we haven’t done it consistently.”

For the season, Seattle ranks 27th in runs per game (3.8), dead-last in batting average (.217), 26th in on-base percentage (.297), 28th in slugging percentage (.363) and 28th in OPS (.660). The Mariners also have the highest strikeout rate in the majors at 28.1%, which is two percentage points above the next-closest team.

Castillo rebounds from rough June

One positive from this weekend was a strong performance by Luis Castillo. Over his previous five starts, the 31-year-old ace had struggled to a 6.49 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. But he was back to his usual dominant self on Friday night, when he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of a 2-1 win over Toronto. Castillo allowed just one run and two hits in 6 2/3 innings, while totaling eight strikeouts and two walks.

At the suggestion of his pitching coaches, Castillo tweaked the grip on his slider prior to Friday’s start. His slider on Friday averaged 82.9 mph, which was several ticks slower than his 86.1 mph season average, according to Baseball Savant. That gives him more variation in speed when paired with his other three pitches – his 95.5 mph sinker, his 95.4 mph four-seam fastball and his 88.1 mph changeup.

“I loved it,” Servais said of Castillo’s new slider grip. “I just loved it and how his fastball played off of that. (His fastball) was just exploding out of his hand.”

Julio update

In an effort to break out of his season-long power slump, Mariners star outfielder Julio Rodríguez spent some extended time over the past week working with personal hitting coach Osvaldo Diaz. Rodríguez had a mini-breakthrough on Thursday, when he hit a home run and a double in the Mariners’ 7-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles. It marked his first extra-base hits since June 15 and his first game with multiple extra-base hits since May 12.

However, after a 1-for-4 showing on Friday night, Rodríguez exited Saturday’s game in the first inning with tightness in his right quad. Fortunately for Rodríguez and the Mariners, an MRI on his quad came back clean. Rodríguez wasn’t in the lineup for Sunday’s game, but he made a pinch-hit appearance in the eighth inning, when he was hit by a pitch on his elbow guard. He was replaced in the field for the top of the ninth and then was ejected in the bottom half of the inning by home-plate umpire Jordan Baker for arguing a called third strike on teammate Mitch Garver.

“He’s gonna be fine,” Servais said with regard to Rodríguez’s quad prior to Sunday’s game. “He’s just a little bit sore. … I think we’ve avoided anything real serious.”

Up next

The Mariners head to Southern California for a two-game set against the San Diego Padres and a four-game series against the Los Angeles Angels before heading into the All-Star break.

The star-studded Padres (49-45) have won 12 of their past 17 games and currently hold the National League’s third and final wild-card spot. San Diego’s .263 team batting average ranks second in the majors, led by two of the top five hitters on the MLB leaderboard: Jurickson Profar at No. 3 (.315) and two-time batting champion Luis Arraez at No. 5 (.312). The Padres rank 12th in the majors at 4.65 runs per game, but their pitching has struggled to a 4.16 ERA that ranks 20th.

Meanwhile, the Angels (37-52) have the fifth-worst record in the majors and have lost six of their past seven games. They rank 24th in runs per game (4.03) and 28th in ERA (4.58).

More on the Seattle Mariners

• MRI comes back clean for Mariners OF Julio Rodríguez
• Mariners RHPs Bryan Woo, Gregory Santos feeling good after rehab outings
• Which prospect is Seattle Mariners’ best trade chip? MLB insider explains
• Could Seattle Mariners lure a star away from Blue Jays?
• Former Seattle Mariners pitcher analyzes bullpen for stretch run

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