Table Setter: A good time for the Mariners to make a trip to Baltimore

Jun 24, 2018, 10:06 PM

Mariners ace James Paxton was roughed up in his start at Yankee Stadium. (AP)...

Mariners ace James Paxton was roughed up in his start at Yankee Stadium. (AP)


The Seattle Mariners have seen better weeks this season. In fact, pretty much all of them.

In the eight-day span covering their homestand finale on June 17 to Sunday’s 5-0 loss in Boston, the Mariners played seven games and won just one.

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The Yankees were incredibly tough in New York, sweeping Seattle aside in three games. The Red Sox weren’t much easier, though the M’s did ride a stellar performance by Mike Leake on Saturday to a 7-2 victory that snapped a season-high losing streak of five games.

All told, it’s not that bad. This was always going to be the hardest stretch of the year for the Mariners, and they still went 10-9 over their last 19 games despite facing either the Astros, Angels, Red Sox or Yankees in 15 of those contests.

Now, they’ll get to wrap up their road trip with four games in Baltimore against one of only two teams in the majors yet to win 25 games this season.

Here are three things to keep in mind this week about the Mariners.

The Machine returns

A key point about the Mariners’ disappointing week in the Northeast is that for the last four games they were without Jean Segura, their All-Star-caliber No. 2 hitter and shortstop.

An infection on Segura’s arm resulted in him missing the final game of the series in New York last Thursday, and he never found his way back into the lineup in Boston. He did work out on the field before Sunday’s game, however, and all signs point to him returning for the series in Baltimore.

That will make for an interesting matchup against the Orioles’ Manny Machado, the leader in votes to be the American League’s starting shortstop in the All-Star Game. Machado has earned that distinction with 19 home runs and a .941 OPS, but Segura is in the conversation to be his backup in Washington, D.C., ranking third in the AL in average (.334) and in the top ten in several other categories.

The Mariners certainly missed having Segura’s bat in the lineup. He has been one of the more clutch hitters in baseball, and in Seattle’s three losses without him, the Mariners scored just one run in the fifth inning or later.

A weary bullpen

Leake’s eight shutout innings Saturday were huge for multiple reasons. It got him back on track after he gave up five runs over six innings in his previous start (also against Boston). It stopped the Mariners’ worst losing streak of the season. And perhaps most importantly, it provided the bullpen some rest when the relievers really needed it.

The Mariners have actually seen good things from some of their bullpen arms as of late. But that has mostly been with the pitchers who are used in lower-leverage situations like Nick Rumbelow, Roenis Elias and Chasen Bradford. The pitchers who typically set up closer Edwin Díaz have been a different story.

Juan Nicasio and Nick Vincent both returned from the disabled list last week, and their roles in Friday’s bullpen implosion that resulted in a 14-10 loss were worrisome. Granted, it was Vincent’s first outing back from a groin strain and Nicasio’s second back from a knee injury, but they combined to record just two outs, giving up seven runs on seven hits and a walk. The good news is they each have a clean inning (Nicasio two days before Friday, Vincent two days after) under their belts since coming off the DL. But lefty James Pazos has also run into trouble, giving up a run in each of his last two appearances, and Alex Colomé was handed a blown save in New York.

As good as the pen has been in 2018, it may be time for Jerry Dipoto to target some upgrades.

Causes for concern in the rotation

As impressive as the Mariners have been since losing Robinson Canó – something that should earn them some goodwill with the fan base to get through this rough patch – signs that troubled waters were ahead revealed themselves over the past two weeks. Particularly in the starting rotation.

It was unlikely Wade LeBlanc would continue to be one of the American League’s best pitchers, and six days after he dazzled against Boston, the Red Sox jumped all over him for six runs on 11 hits and a walk in 4 2/3 innings Friday. His next start will be very important and could determine if the Mariners want to keep him in the rotation much longer. After all, when the Mariners first acquired him in 2016, they didn’t wait long to move him to the bullpen once getting through five innings became less of a guarantee from him.

James Paxton, once seemingly a lock for the All-Star Game, has struggled over his last two starts. That is particularly alarming considering he felt a cramp in his left forearm in the start previous to those two, and he previously dealt with a forearm issue in 2017. His ERA has ballooned from 2.95 to 3.72 since June 5, but at least he has avoided the DL to this point.

As for Marco Gonzales, he may be in a position where he needs to re-adjust to the league’s adjustments to him after a nice run of outings from mid-May to mid-June. He owned a 3.28 ERA on June 8, but he gave up a combined 11 earned runs over his last two starts and didn’t make it past five innings in the one before that.

At least Leake had his best game of the year on Saturday and Félix Hernández hasn’t allowed more than one earned run in three of his last four outings. But as it stands now, the rotation that had a lot of question marks heading into the season is back at square one.

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Table Setter: A good time for the Mariners to make a trip to Baltimore