If you think being a Mariners fan these days is painful, you’re not going to get any sympathy from Mitch Haniger. Or Braden Bishop. Or any of the nearly a dozen M’s dealing with injuries.
It’s not often you see words like Achilles or spleen or, ahem, testicle on baseball’s injured list, but they all appear on the M’s most recent one along with the usual shoulder stiffness and elbow inflammation.
It’s almost as if this team is, if not cursed, at least bit by some sort of reptile.
Look, having four of your eight starters – Haniger, J.P. Crawford, Dee Gordon and Ryon Healy – dealing with injuries at one time is not rare. The Yankees have faced worse this season, early on dealing with $87 million worth of payroll – nearly half of their total – on the injured list. And yet they headed into Saturday with a 39-23 record, tied for first in the American League East.
The Mariners don’t have New York’s payroll, or its talent. So when four starters go down for an extended period, the results on the field are going to suffer.
Injuries aren’t the only reason Seattle has played .269 baseball since opening the season 13-2. But they are a contributing factor. Since Gordon (right wrist contusion) and Healy (lower back stiffness) hit the IL May 21, the M’s have won just three of 16 games.
The latest injuries, Haniger’s ruptured testicle and Bishop’s lacerated spleen, are cringe-worthy in many ways.
Haniger was facing Houston ace Justin Verlander last Thursday when he fouled a ball into the dirt. It came up and caught him in the groin. He had surgery and is out indefinitely.
Bishop’s injury wasn’t as painful at first. Or as easy to spot.
The young outfielder was hit with a pitch while playing for Tacoma last week. Happens all the time, right? But what it caused doesn’t. In fact, Seattle manager Scott Servais told reporters he’s never heard of an internal organ damaged in such a way.
Bishop finished the game and played through the pain after being recalled. But last Tuesday night in the fifth inning, it got to be too much and he begged out. In less than 24 hours, he was in the hospital and undergoing a procedure to deal with the injury.
He, like Haniger, will be out an indefinite amount of time.
• The Mariners’ pitching woes are a subject that has received much attention this season. Rightfully so.
But the pitchers are not receiving a lot of support. And we’re not talking about run support.
In a word, Seattle’s defense has been atrocious.
There are numbers that tell the story succinctly. Two, in fact: 69 and -29.
The first is the number of errors the Mariners have committed in their 47 games this season (going into Saturday night). That is 18 more than the American League’s second-worst fielding team, the Chicago White Sox.
But the White Sox have a few defensive players who are actually gifted, so despite a .977 fielding percentage, they have yielded just four runs more than an average team. The Mariners, with their combination of poor fielders and sloppy play? That would be the -29 number. In other words, their defense has given up 29 more runs than a group of average defenders. It is the worst deficit in the American League and, after watching the M’s play this season, a number that seemingly should be worse.
It’s not just the boots and bobbles. Those happen. It’s also a left fielder jogging after a ball hit into the left-field corner, allowing the hitter a double instead of a single. It’s a left fielder not sprinting after a pop up with a runner on third, forcing the shortstop to catch it running away from the plate and thus allowing the runner to tag and score.
We’ve witnessed both, and in both cases the left fielder was Domingo Santana, a potent bat but a seeming conscientious objector when it comes to the defensive part of the game. With Haniger and Bishop out and Jay Bruce in Philadelphia, Santana has moved back to right field, where he played with the Brewers a couple of years ago.
Will it help? Maybe. But that’s just one hole.
It’s hard to find a place to play Tim Beckham, who has made 13 physical errors and more intellectual ones. Or to be patient with center fielder Mallex Smith, who has three errors and at least twice as many misplayed fly balls.
Then there is the occasional mental error that is more embarrassing than costly. The best illustration of this came last Monday in a 4-2 loss to the Astros. You probably saw it. With the game on national television and the blunder played over and over again on social media, how could you have not?
Runners on first and third, one out, top of the sixth. A slowly hit ground ball on the left side. Shortstop Dylan Moore charges, has no play anywhere but home. His throw beats Alex Bregman to the plate – and keeps going until it hits the backstop.
Catcher Omar Narvaez, for some unfathomable reason, had headed down the first-base line, leaving home plate unattended.
In a season of painful plays to watch, this defensive rupture may have hurt the most.
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