Mariners running out of time to turn around their confounding season

Jun 30, 2015, 10:40 AM | Updated: 10:55 am
Mike Zunino and the M's are in danger of finishing with the fewest runs of any June in club history. (AP)
(AP)

Until Sunday, every time the Mariners went seven games under .500, they won their next game. It happened seven times in a row. That streak ended with a 3-2, 10-inning loss to the Angels on a wild-pitch walk-off when Mike Zunino couldn’t block a changeup in the dirt from Tom Wilhelmsen.

More and more, this feeling of hope for the Mariners is turning into despair. Every time you think they might be starting to resurrect their season, they lose and make you wonder how you could have still been hopeful. Every time you look at their lineup and think it’s decent or at least better than Mariners lineups in the past, they get shut out or scratch out four hits against a fifth starter.

It isn’t early anymore. The Mariners will be at the halfway point of the season following Saturday’s game in Oakland. They are 34-42, on a pace to go 72-90, a 15-game drop from their 87-75 record last year.

An 88-74 record was needed to make the playoffs last year. To finish with 88 wins, the Mariners would have to go 54-32 the rest of the way, a winning percentage of .628. The Cardinals are the only team playing at that kind of pace (.680) in the major leagues at 51-24, and truthfully, the Mariners look like they have a better chance to go 32-54 than 54-32.

If they score three runs or fewer tonight, the Mariners will establish a new record for fewest runs in June. They enter tonight’s game at San Diego with 69 runs this month. The 1988 team scored 73 and hit .216 in June. The 2015 team is hitting .220 this month.

Ian Kennedy starts for the Padres tonight, and there’s good news, bad news. He gave up five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings in an 11-4 loss to the Mariners May 12 at Safeco Field, but he’s allowed just eight earned runs in his last five starts.

I keep trying to come up with reasons why the Mariners have fallen so short of high expectations this year and am frankly flummoxed, probably because there are all kinds of contributing factors – bad personnel decisions, below-average players, players who can hit for power but can’t get on base, disconnect with manager Lloyd McClendon, poor player development, below-average defense in the outfield and at shortstop, and constant lineup changes.

Then there’s this explanation that’s as good as any from Mike Pryor of Phinney Ridge, who sent me an email that read, in part: “The Mariners are like watching two people who were set up by friends on a bad date. They just don’t click. On paper, they should get along but they don’t. The Mariners just don’t meld into a team. Not everyone is meant for each other.”

Meanwhile “the Astros look like they accidentally bumped into each other looking for their keys under a bar stool, and it was love at first sight.”

Seattle might be the home of the most underpaid and overpaid players in sports with Russell Wilson about to make $1.5 million this year and Robinson Cano earning $24 million while hitting .241 and goofing up on the basepaths during the second-year of a 10-year contract. Cano was hitting .320 on June 30 last year.

Mike Zunino, God love him, and it seems like everyone does, and everyone’s pulling for him. Over and over again, we see his great defense and pitch-framing, plus he calls good games for his pitchers.

But it’s hard to justify a .166 average in the major leagues, yet the Mariners have to because they don’t have a better option. Zunino is on a pace to strike out 181 times this year, which isn’t even close to the major-league record held by Mark Reynolds, who fanned 223 times with the Diamondbacks in 2009.

Here’s the difference: Reynolds also averaged .260 with 44 home runs and 102 RBIs that year. And American League strikeout record-holder Adam Dunn whiffed 222 times in 2012 but averaged .204 with 41 homers and 96 RBIs. Zunino has eight home runs with 17 RBIs.

It’s probably not his fault. The Mariners rushed him to the big leagues before he was fully prepared. But I’m sorry, I still have a hard time stomaching the supposed “news” last Saturday night that Zunino had gone three consecutive games without striking out for the first time in his major-league career, as if that’s a feat to be celebrated.

I understand that it’s a tip of the cap to new hitting coach Edgar Martinez, a sign of his possible influence on Zunino and an indicator of good things to come. But still, let’s not forget that Zunino was a No. 3 overall draft pick in 2012 and to give him a standing ovation or even a golf clap for grounding out and popping out instead of striking out is absurd.

For the record, Zunino went 0 for 4 and struck out twice on Sunday, ending his torrid non-strikeout streak. But hey, maybe he can start a new one tonight.

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Mariners running out of time to turn around their confounding season