BRENT STECKER

Stecker’s 3 Things: Why Scott Servais says Mariners are at a ‘critical point’

Jul 6, 2017, 6:00 AM | Updated: 9:14 am

Felix Hernandez's performance over the next few weeks could have a big impact for the M's. (AP)...

Felix Hernandez's performance over the next few weeks could have a big impact for the M's. (AP)

(AP)

The Mariners fell victim to a sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals after a heartbreaking loss in extra innings on Wednesday night, and they enter their final series before the All-Star break with a 41-45 record that is certainly disappointing considering the expectations they had heading into the year.

Here are three things to keep in mind during their four-game set at home against Oakland, which begins Thursday night:

1. “It’s a critical point in our season right now.”

Those were the words manager Scott Servais used after Wednesday night’s demoralizing loss, one in which the Mariners gave up four runs in the first inning, responded with six runs of their own by the end of the third frame, then eventually lost 9-6 when Royals catcher Salvador Perez smacked an opposite-field homer for the two of Kansas City’s three runs in the 10th inning. It was a loss pretty representative of the Mariners’ season so far – stumble out of the gates, fight back and maybe even take control for a time, but ultimately trip towards the end. That’s not the first time the Mariners have suffered a loss like that in 2017, but they’d definitely like it to be the last. And they’d like their season to go a different direction than that, as well. Servais wasn’t just drawing a line in the sand with his comments after Wednesday’s loss – he was shooting it straight. The Athletics haven’t been good this season, sitting at 37-48 heading into the upcoming series at Safeco Field, and the Mariners need to take advantage of that for the sake of their season. If the Mariners bounce back from their current skid and sweep, they’ll take a .500 record and considerable momentum into the four-day All-Star break. But if they keep struggling, the hole they’re in will only look bigger when the second half of the season gets under way late next week. Critical? Absolutely.

2. The continuing saga of Kyle Seager.

The Mariners have one of the best third basemen in all of baseball, and most teams would love to have somebody with his glove and .251/.322/.412 slash line at the hot corner. Of course, the Mariners have grown to expect more out of Seager, and so has he out of himself, which is why this season has been a frustrating one. Seager will be the first to admit that 2017 hasn’t gone the way he’s wanted it to, and Seattle’s record might be a little closer to .500 or above it if he were having more of a typical Kyle Seager season. This is uncharted territory for him, not just sitting below his averages in hitting, on-base percentage and slugging percentage halfway through the season, but not having a single month where he was certifiably on fire to make up for the times when his bat lags behind. He sat out the entirety of Wednesday’s game, and the message was clear that Servais wanted to afford him the opportunity to completely clear his head and have a chance to get back to basics. Just like the Oakland series is critical for the Mariners, Seager is in a similar situation as an individual. A few good games could get him rolling into the second half of the season and he could very well still end up with numbers close to his breakout 2016 campaign. Then there’s the possibility that he continues to scuffle at the plate and ends the season hitting in the .250s, in which case the Mariners’ odds of pulling out of their funk are a little bit longer than if Seager finally finds his stroke.

3. The future is rising while the past tries to keep up.

It’s an interesting coincidence that the Mariners find themselves at a crossroads at the same time an exciting new pitcher has emerged while the stalwart ace of the staff is in a position he’s not at all familiar with. The Mariners’ next few weeks will probably determine what route they will take at the trade deadline, and crucial over that period will be starts by rookie Andrew Moore and the face of the franchise, Felix Hernandez. Moore has thrown quality starts in each of his two games with Seattle, including an eight-inning outing on Monday. Hernandez, however, has an ERA over 5.00 and has allowed two runs or fewer in just two of his eight starts this season. Moore pitches well beyond his years, relying on a quick pace and exceptional command to make up for a lack of the kind of filthy stuff that usually gets pitchers his age to the majors so quickly. Hernandez is still trying to find his way with a new approach, as the incredible stuff he came to the Mariners with 12 years ago has diminished. With Moore joining James Paxton, Ariel Miranda and Sam Gaviglio in the rotation, and with fresh faces like Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger, Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia playing key roles in the lineup, the Mariners are tipping the scales younger and younger. The farther they get away from playoff contention, the more likely it is that an influx of more young talent joins the system while veteran players are moved out. The King isn’t likely at risk of wearing a new uniform any time soon, but his performance over the next few weeks might have an impact on who is wearing a Mariners jersey with him in August.

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