Drayer: Mariners finally find some breaks, but probably need some more

Aug 10, 2017, 11:30 AM
Seattle's bullpen has picked up the slack for a struggling rotation, but can it keep it up? (AP)...
Seattle's bullpen has picked up the slack for a struggling rotation, but can it keep it up? (AP)

The Mariners’ dreaded August schedule is not going as perhaps some expected, and that is a good thing. The Mariners return home Thursday to Safeco Field for their only homestand of the month coming off a 6-3 road trip and in sole possession of the second wild-card spot.

Alrighty then.

The second-half story is in some ways similar to the first. Injuries, injuries, injuries.

Mitch Haniger? Check. Felix Hernandez? Check. Key reliever David Phelps? Sure, why not.

The difference in the second half is that these losses have been just blips on the radar in the clubhouse. The guys on the field will get it done – somehow. Somehow to the tune of an American League-best 16-9 second-half record.

Moore: Now in line for wild-card spot, M’s keep defying the odds

After the Mariners’ 7-6 come-from-behind win over the A’s in 10 innings Tuesday night in Oakland, Ben Gamel credited the pitching for “getting the bats back in our hands” during his on-field interview with me. A confident statement from a member of a confident offense.

While the majority of the bullpen is much less likely to put their very real confidence into words, their numbers have no problem talking. Edwin Diaz has saved 12 games in the second half. Nick Vincent has allowed all of two home runs this year and finds himself on a number of top 10 lists for relievers. Emilio Pagan and Casey Lawrence, looming Tacoma shuttle be damned, throw multiple innings of zeroes. It all adds up to Seattle’s relievers owning a second-half WAR that is second in the American League only to the Yankees’ intergalactic superhero pen.

Good things have happened in the second half. We have seen fewer lapses in the field and on the bases. More aggressive but smart base running, and even more stolen bases. Kyle Seager has come around, Nelson Cruz is on a tear, hits are starting to fall again for Ben Gamel and Jean Segura. They got lucky on the road with the weather. Kansas City and Arlington can be some of the hottest baseball cities in August but the weather stayed cool with the players avoiding any kind of taxing heat. They also have avoided the smoke that shocked all when we arrived at Sea-Tac Wednesday night. Significant breaks in a season that has not had many.

They could probably use a few more, though.

The rotation needs all the help it can get right now. Scott Servais currently has exactly one starter he can depend on for six innings every time he takes the ball (James Paxton). He has two starters who have spent time in the pen this year and another that has just come up from Triple-A. I don’t care how much bullpen juggling or shuttling you do, we’ve seen what happens to bullpens when starters can’t give innings on a regular basis. Much easier said than done, but this team desperately needs another reliable arm.

Plan B is to run multiple middle relievers through to try and hold leads or keep the game within reach in the fifth and sixth innings if the starters falter. We saw that in Oakland, and it worked. Can it work for a month? With the pitching situation what it is in the big leagues right now, we are probably going to find out.

If May was hang-on time for the Mariners and July go time, it would appear August is cross-your-fingers time.

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