BOSTON – The familiar guitar intro of “Dirty Water” by the Standells – the Red Sox victory anthem – boomed through the speakers of Fenway Park, adding to the din of 30,000 cheering fans in the Sunday heat.
Several Mariners players stalked off the field, disappearing into the clubhouse before Franchy Cordero had even finished rounding the bases on his walk-off grand slam.
A 10-game road trip that started with promise and a series win over the Mets ended with getting swept in a four-game series in Boston and a 3-7 record.
A season that started with postseason hopes – a place the Mariners haven’t been since 2001 – started devolving after they went 7-2 in the first homestand of the season.
On April 26, they opened their second road trip of the season and a stretch of 16 games in 16 days. They defeated the Rays, 8-4, benefiting from seven unearned runs, improving to 11-6 on the season and in first place in the AL West. It was the last time the Mariners have won back-to-back games this season.
The next day Seattle was shut down by former Mt. Spokane standout Drew Rasmussen in a 3-2 loss. It was the start of a brutal stretch of baseball that featured anemic offense, costly defensive miscues, bullpen meltdowns, injuries, multiple roster moves and losses in 19 of 25 games.
Hello, failure, my old friend.
In the aftermath of Sunday’s loss, a beleaguered Scott Servais applauded the effort of his team and the fight they showed in defeat.
And yet …
“Guys feel bad,” the Seattle manager said. “We should be winning more games, and we’re not.”
Indeed, the Mariners fell to 17-25 on the season. While it’s premature to look at the standings, they sit 10 games back from the Astros (27-15) in the division. Even with the expanded playoffs featuring a third wild card, they are well behind. The Angels (26-17), Rays (24-17) and Blue Jays (22-18) would qualify.
Or you can look at it this way, the Mariners’ record is better than three teams in the AL – Oakland (17-26), Detroit (14-26) and Kansas City (14-26).
Is it too late to still say, “It’s early?”
In a visitors clubhouse that would make an overpriced Seattle studio apartment seem spacious, the somber post-loss atmosphere reeked of frustration.
“They should be frustrated,” Servais said. “We are all frustrated. We all gotta do better.”
Servais recently said he learns a lot about a team over its first 40 games.
What have we learned about the Mariners in the first 42 games?
• They have yet to put the best version of their roster on the field.
• They desperately miss Mitch Haniger’s daily presence in the lineup and the clubhouse.
• They are relying on Ty France, J.P. Crawford and Adam Frazier for much of the offense with the slow start of Jesse Winker and failures of Jarred Kelenic.
• The bullpen has regressed more than expected with only three healthy trusted leverage relievers – Sergio Romo, Paul Sewald and rookie Penn Murfee.
• Lack of depth at the higher levels of the organization is a problem, one predicted by several players. An injury to the starting rotation would be catastrophic.
“With this group, they work very hard,” Servais said Sunday. “They take their craft very seriously. They believe in what we do, in our preparation every day. That’s what you can control. Once you get out on the field, you’ve just got to play. It will turn. It will. I know it looks very bleak right now. But as long as we continue to compete like we did today, we’ll be fine.”
The words triggered an eerie feeling of déjà vu.
A quick check revealed that Servais said something to that effect 364 days before.
A year ago on May 23, 2021, the Mariners, who were also dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak in their bullpen, were drubbed 9-2 by the Padres. It was a fitting end to an embarrassing three-game series at Petco Park where the Mariners were swept and thoroughly handled. The Padres outscored Seattle, 31-7, over the three games.
The Mariners fell to 21-26 after the loss and sat in fourth place in the American League West, a game ahead of the Angels (20-27). They were reeling. Marco Gonzales and Ty France were on the injured list. They had the worst offense in baseball and were no-hit twice in the previous two weeks.
“We’ve suffered through some injuries and dealing with losing a few players on the COVID issue,” Servais said after that game. “We’re just at one of those points in the season. It will turn. But really, it only turns if guys continue to show up every day, work hard, have a good attitude and believe in what we’re trying to do. It will get better.”
It did get better for the 2021 Mariners. They went to Oakland and won two of three and then swept a four-game series vs. the Rangers at T-Mobile Park. By July 1, the 2021 Mariners were 43-39.
Seattle’s offense was unforgettably awful early last season.
After their loss May 23, 2021, the Mariners were averaging 3.7 runs per game with a slash line that featured a .200 batting average (last in MLB), a .280 on-base percentage (last in baseball) and a .358 slugging percentage (28th of 30 teams). They struck out in 26.8 percent of their plate appearances, which was sixth highest in MLB. The 0.6 WAR was 29th in MLB.
But is it that much better in 2022?
In 42 games this season, Seattle is averaging 3.9 runs per game (21st) with a .234/.312/.376 slash line, which is around league average, and a 6.3 WAR.
Past data suggests that Winker should continue to trend up on his .217/.309/.303 slash line and generate more extra-base hits. The possible return of Kyle Lewis, maybe Monday, and eventual return of Haniger and Kelenic could also help the offense find some consistency.
The pitching staff has generated just 1.1 WAR (29th) with an overall 4.26 ERA while giving up 56 homers, the most in baseball. The rotation has produced a 0.8 WAR with a 4.20 ERA, while an inconsistent bullpen has generated a 0.3 WAR (24th) with a 4.35 ERA (25th). A year ago, a beat-up six-man rotation had a 1.7 WAR with a 5.06 ERA while the bullpen had a 1.5 WAR with a 4.10 ERA.Are the 2022 Mariners, who arguably have a more talented roster, capable of a 2021-like rebound?
They believe it.
But there is a one major difference between then and now – expectations.Few people outside of the clubhouse expected the 2021 Mariners to be good. Their eventual success was a pleasant surprise. It also led to expected and demanded success in 2022.
When stated expectations aren’t met, patience evaporates and change follows.
“We’ve had some adversity early in the season more than we really bargained for,” Servais said. “But that’s just the way it goes. You’ve got to figure out a way to fight through it.”
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