KANSAS CITY, Mo. – New city, new time zone, same stinkin’ struggles for the Seattle Mariners.
An endless road trip staggered on Friday night, another abysmal loss stacked on top of the one before it.
Playing without injured rookie Julio Rodriguez, the Mariners managed just one run on offense and committed two errors on defense in a 5-1 defeat to the Kansas City Royals on a cold Friday night at Kauffman Stadium.
The Baltimore Orioles (79-71), meanwhile, won their third straight game Friday night, shutting out Houston 6-0 to pull within three games of the Mariners for the final playoff spot in the American League wild-card standings, with 12 games remaining.
The chase is on.
And the Mariners (82-68) have picked the wrong time to fall off. They have lost six of eight games on this dreadful 10-game, 10-day road trip – managing only one run in five of those losses.
Each day seems to bring both something familiar and something new.
“A common theme on this trip, for the most part, (is) we have not played clean baseball,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “ … We (usually) don’t beat ourselves.”
This was supposed to be the easiest stretch of Seattle’s schedule, against three of the worst teams in the American League. Before playing the Mariners, the Angels, the A’s and the Royals had a combined winning percentage of .397.
Before playing the Mariners, that is.
And somehow it keeps getting worse.
About 30 minutes before first pitch Friday, the Mariners announced that Rodriguez, their prized rookie sensation, had been placed on the 10-day injured list with a lower back strain. Servais said team doctors were optimistic Rodriguez would need just the 10 days to rest and recover; he would be eligible to return to the lineup for the Mariners’ final series of the season at home against Detroit.
Without Rodriguez, and without injured third baseman Eugenio Suarez, the Mariners are missing their two most formidable power bats – and the energy those two bring to the field every day.
“Julio’s not just had a fantastic season, but he does so much for our team energy-wise at the top of the lineup,” Servais said. “He’s putting together one of those seasons. He’s kind of leading the charge up the hill. Things happen, OK. And that’s kind of when you find out as a team – other guys need to step up. They don’t have to try any harder, but we’ve got to have good at-bats. We’ve got to really come together as a team and figure out a way to get it over the hump.”
The Mariners continued to cobble together a patchwork defense, and it showed.
Jarred Kelenic, recalled from Class AAA Tacoma two days earlier, took over for Rodriguez in center field.
Ty France, the All-Star first baseman, moved over to third base for the second straight day to fill in for Suarez.
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Carlos Santana, the regular DH, played first.
Adam Frazier, the regular second baseman, started in left field.
Abraham Toro came off the bench to play second base.
Shortstop J.P. Crawford is playing through a sore knee. Catcher Cal Raleigh has an injured thumb.
“That’s just where we’re at this point in the season – everybody’s dragging a little bit,” Servais said before the game.
Marco Gonzales pitched well enough for the Mariners. He just didn’t get much help from the defense.
Kelenic had a poor read on Nate Eaton’s soft single in the third inning, allowing a run to score and giving Eaton a chance to sneak into second base.
Two pitches later, MJ Melendez hit a soft single off Gonzales to score Eaton and give the Royals a lead they didn’t relinquish.
Toro, after making an impressive diving stop earlier, couldn’t finish a play on a slow roller up the middle that resulted in a throwing error.
Crawford dropped a ball at second base to wipe out a double-play opportunity.
Later, Frazier couldn’t come up with a catch on a hard-hit ball in left field (a play that was initially ruled an error but later ruled an RBI single off the bat off Vinnie Pasquantino).
“We’re a really good defensive team; we have been all year,” Gonzales said. “And there’s really nobody that I would rather have behind me. These guys have made great plays all year. So when it happens, you gotta flush it and move on.”
Raleigh hit a solo home run – his 24th of the season – off Royals starter Brady Singer in the second inning, giving the Mariners an early 1-0 lead.
That’s all they’d get.
Singer allowed just five hits over seven innings, striking out eight and walking two on 110 pitches.
The Mariners were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position. Three times the Mariners led off an inning with a double – Toro in the third, Santana in the fourth, Kelenic in the seventh – and they couldn’t push the run across in any of those innings.
“That was the story of the game. … We had key at-bats there that got away from us,” Servais said. “We didn’t come through in those spots.”