Moore: With skid to end first half, Mariners are in a weird spot

Jul 16, 2018, 11:28 AM

The Mariners lost three straight series going into the All-Star break. (AP)...

The Mariners lost three straight series going into the All-Star break. (AP)


Right after their fourth loss in a row heading into the All-Star break, Aaron Goldsmith reminded us on the radio broadcast that the Mariners are 19 games over .500.

Then during the postgame show, Curtis Rogers reminded us that the Mariners are 19 games over .500.

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And by the end of the broadcast following Sunday’s loss to the Rockies, one of the hosts said that if you had asked fans last spring if they would be happy if the Mariners were 19 games over .500 at the All-Star break, they all would have done back-flips and cartwheels, elated with the thought.

I would’ve felt the same way, minus the back-flips and cartwheels – at my age I worry about pulling something just putting on my socks in the morning. Back in the springtime, if you’d told me the Mariners would arrive at the All-Star break at 58-39 after losing eight of their last 11 and four straight, I’d probably still have taken that. But with what’s happened in the last week, I’m a little confused about the local nine.

How many races have you seen where the front-running horse builds a huge lead and looks like he’s going to go wire-to-wire only to fade miserably in the stretch and is overtaken by a horse with a lot more left? The baseball version of this could play out with the Mariners and the A’s, a team that has won 20 of its last 26 games. Oakland trailed the Mariners in the race for the second wild-card berth by 11 games on June 15, and now Bob Melvin’s surprising club is just three games back.

Mariners manager Scott Servais said all of the right things to his team after his team was swept in Denver. He doesn’t want them to forget how well they played overall in the first 97 games of the year, doesn’t want them feeling down and out. He wants to see them recharged when they return on Friday for a five-game homestand that starts with the White Sox.

The Mariners built such a big cushion, it allowed them to sustain a stretch like this. And it’s fair to point out that every team goes through a down period in its schedule. Plus the Mariners have the fourth-best record in baseball, trailing only the Red Sox (68-30), Yankees (62-33) and Astros (64-35). If you put Servais’ squad in the National League, they would lead the West by four games over the Dodgers, the Central by two games over the Cubs and the East by four games over the Phillies.

But now it’s time to make a call to the columnist bullpen, time to switch from the sunshine-and-lollipops guy who wrote the first five paragraphs to a guy who is now thinking a Mariners’ collapse is imminent. As much as they’ve wanted to believe that their 26-12 record in one-run games highlights positive attributes such as Edwin Díaz, it may also show that the Mariners have been a little lucky too.

You could also say they were playing over their heads when they were at a 103-win pace and more apt to play at a 90-win pace. In one of the strangest stats of all, it’s amazing to think the Mariners are 58-39 with a minus-2 run differential. The team they’re chasing in the AL West, Houston, has a plus-188 run differential. The Angels are 49-48 but have a plus-24 run differential.

Friday night I tweeted that I was officially concerned about the Mariners. Now I’m officially worried, as in really worried, and I’ve always felt that worry and concern aren’t synonymous. When you’re worried, you fear the worst. When you’re concerned, you’re more analytical, more likely to think things could improve.

If I’m really worried about the Mariners, that’s probably a good thing given my track record with predictions and forecasts. It no doubt means they will sweep the White Sox and Giants at Safeco Field when they return from the All-Star break and make the doom-and-gloomers look stupid for doubting them.

The two biggest reasons why fellow doom-and-gloomers doubt them now? The offense and the rotation, and of the two what “concerns” me most are the starting pitchers. I know the offense has finally felt the loss of Robinson Canó. For awhile there, they didn’t miss him at all. That’s changed. The once-deep lineup has more holes than it used to. Aug. 14, Canó’s return date from his PED suspension, can’t get here quick enough. I’ve gone from not missing Robbie to thinking he could be the spark who saves the season.

But the rotation? I question whether it’s going to hold up over the next 2 1/2 months. For a stretch of time, all five starters pitched well and were the biggest reason why the Mariners were tearing it up. Now you’ve got back injuries to James Paxton and Felix Hernandez, so-so results from Mike Leake, a lingering dread with Wade LeBlanc and a pending innings limit on Marco Gonzales.

Paxton and Felix will return after the All-Star break, and their back injuries are said to be minor. Hopefully they are, maybe they’re not. Thing is, even when Felix has been healthy this year, he has looked more like a fifth starter than the ace he once was. With Paxton, because of his history with injuries, you hope this isn’t something he’s going to have to deal with the rest of the year. Paxton, in my mind, is the most irreplaceable player on the team. If you lose him, you kiss the playoffs goodbye.

With Leake, you truly don’t know what you’re going to get from start to start. He can surprise you like he did by going six innings and allowing just one earned run to the Rockies in a hitters’ park on Sunday. But he also looks like he’s throwing batting practice in other starts. There appears to be a fine line with him, between solid major league pitcher and why in the heck is he on a major league team.

I should have more confidence in LeBlanc, but I don’t. You can show me why I should – he’s been mostly brilliant as a starter, but I’ll always think to myself that he looks very hittable, and there are good reasons why he’s been a journeyman throughout his career.

Love Marco, but sometime in August he’ll have pitched more innings in a season than he ever has, and the Mariners need to balance out his future with the present.

Maybe adding a sixth starter would help everyone, but who would that be? Erasmo Ramirez, perhaps, if he ever returns. Maybe Roenis Elias or a pitcher acquired before the July 31 trade deadline.

It will be interesting to see how the final 65 games play out. Even if they go 32-33 the rest of the way, that would still put them at 90-72 and should get them a wild card berth. But if they stumble like they have in the last week and a half, losing three straight series and getting swept in one, we might be watching the A’s play the Red Sox or Yankees in the wild card game.

The Mariners have put themselves in a weird spot. There’s no in between anymore. They’re going to be hailed as the team that ended the franchise’s 17-year playoff drought, or the team that blew an 11-game lead and extended the streak to 18 years.

If you had to bet one way or the other, which would it be? As much as I want them to make the playoffs, based on what we’ve seen of late, the Mariners look like they’re gonna blow it.

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