Mariners get up-close look at team they want to be in loss to Royals
The Kansas City Royals are the team the Mariners want to be. Monday night’s 4-1 loss was a rough reminder of that reality.
At a time when the Mariners (32-39) are inching closer to the midway point of the season and still struggling to find their identity, the Central Division-leading Royals (40-27) marched into Safeco Field with no issues about who they are.
Even with Felix Hernandez on the mound, Kansas City took it to the King, racking up nine hits and four runs against him over 6 2/3 innings. They received a dominant performance from once-retired right-hander Joe Blanton, who took advantage of the sometimes-up-but-usually-down Mariners offense to throw six-plus innings of two-hit ball. Their outstanding bullpen posted three perfect innings. There were no errors to speak of.
It was consistent and clean baseball, something that has eluded the Mariners throughout the 2015 season.
In another world, the Mariners could be the Royals. Dustin Ackley (career .241 hitter) could have turned out to be something closer to Alex Gordon (career .269 hitter), another second-overall draft pick who converted to the outfield. Mike Zunino could be hitting somewhere closer to Salvador Perez’s .280 average than his own dreadful .155 mark. Seattle’s lineup as a whole could be doing a better job of getting on base for the middle of order, something that hasn’t been a problem for Kansas City.
The Royals are a case of a rebuild gone right. They hit with draft picks, put together the right combination of stars and veteran signings, and built a strong bullpen and defense.
At least for now, the Mariners are a case of a rebuild in flux – at best. The starting pitching has held things together despite injuries, but the offense, defense and bullpen have all stumbled at times. Robinson Cano finally hit his third home run on Monday, but his average still sits at a disappointing .244. Nelson Cruz had one of the hottest starts to a season in Mariners history, but there were too many holes in the lineup for it to make a mark in the win column.
Monday’s loss was just another reminder of how the 2015 season hasn’t gone as planned for the Mariners, and was even a microcosm of the preseason hope followed by regular-season mediocrity – Cano’s homer gave them a brief 1-0 lead, but the Royals answered with two runs in the second and one in the third, crashing Seattle back to reality.
It was also a reminder of what the Mariners are shooting for – to graduate from a middling franchise to a contender for the American League title. For another two games, they’ll continue to have an up-close look from a team that knows everything there is to know about making that leap.