At 4:32 p.m. Sunday, when Kyle Seager made the final 10th-innning out of a game his team had every chance to win in nine, the Seattle Mariners’ season reached its halfway point.
Their 34-47 record projects to 68-94, which would represent an improvement over last season’s 67-95.
Should the Mariners continue on this won-one-more-than-the-year-before pace, they’ll get to .500 in 2026, and reach the 90-victory plateau in 2035.
A pessimist considers such incremental “progress” and sees a glass that’s half empty. An optimist looks at it and sees that the football season begins in a couple of months.
The contest that closed out Seattle’s first half – a 2-1 defeat to the Boston Red Sox at Safeco Field – was, to borrow from the “Casablanca” line, like any other Mariners game this season, only more so.
Left-handed starter Jason Vargas’ superior change-of-pace pitches handcuffed the Red Sox for eight innings, but he was denied a victory by his team’s stubborn reluctance to seize moments that turn threats into rallies.
The Mariners had two on and nobody out in the third inning, two on and nobody out in the fourth inning, three on and one out in the fifth inning – and out of all that coaxed one run, a sacrifice fly off the bat of Ichiro Suzuki.
Ichiro is on pace for 178 hits, his lowest total in a big-league season, but it’s not as if he’s the only Seattle batter whose production is lagging.
Second baseman Dustin Ackley, who as a rookie drew comparisons to the Phillies’ Chase Utley, now draws comparisons to former Mariners outfield prospect Jeremy Reed. Ackley’s batting average is down to .239, but what distinguished another frustrating performance Sunday was what he didn’t get down: a fourth-inning bunt that was supposed to advance two runners into scoring position.
First baseman Justin Smoak is hitting .204, and that’s after finishing the first half with a bang – a ninth-inning double that put the potential winning run on second base in the person of pinch-runner Munenori Kawasaki.
But Ackley couldn’t drive home Kawasaki and, after Chone Figgins reached on a semi-intentional walk, neither could Brendan Ryan, and that was pretty much that: Another unseasonably cool afternoon in the Pacific Northwest, another pitching gem wasted at Safeco Field, another day that taxed the patience of fans who are sick and tired of being taxed.
As you may have heard, the Mariners are rebuilding with an emphasis on developing home-grown players culled from the scouting department general manager Jack Zduriencik has overhauled.
The philosophy makes fiscal sense – it’s better to stockpile talent from the draft than overspend for free agents past their prime – but here’s the scary question that must be asked halfway through Zduriencik’s fourth season:
What if the numbers don’t lie?
What if Ackley (vulnerable to breaking balls on the outside corner) and Smoak (whose long swing makes him vulnerable to everything but the belt-high fastball) are unable to adjust to the pitchers who’ve adjusted to them?
What if the cleanup hitter on Sunday, catcher Jesus Montero, remains oblivious to the first and foremost responsibility of a cleanup hitter: Advance the baserunner from third base to home plate.
It’s not time to panic about Montero, on pace to finish the season with 16 homers and 56 RBI – decent numbers for a 22-year old rookie, if not as spectacular as his minor-league career with the Yankees portended.
But his at-bat in the fifth inning Sunday, when the right-handed Montero faced Boston left-hander Felix Doubront with one out and the bases loaded, was not what Zduriencik had in mind when he made the trade that cost starting pitching Michael Pineda.
A fly ball to the outfield would’ve provided the Mariners with an insurance run, but Montero wasn’t thinking fly ball to the outfield. From the look of his swing, he was thinking: I’ll pull this ball into the left-field upper deck.
He pulled the ball to the left side, sure enough, but it didn’t end up in the seats. It ended up bouncing into the glove of Will Middlebrooks, who stepped on third and threw to first for an inning-ending double play.
I’m not sure if Montero’s over-eager approach to the bases-loaded challenge is consistent with the teachings of hitting coach Chris Chambliss.
Then again, I’m not sure what Chambliss is teaching, because every holdover from the 2011 Mariners lineup has regressed except Seager.
I don’t know enough about hitting to recommend that Chambliss be replaced. What I do know is his students have developed a phobia about hitting in Safeco Field, where they took a team batting average of .199 into the series finale against the Red Sox.
After the Mariners collected all of four hits Sunday, manager Eric Wedge used stern words to describe his disappointment about scoring only one run against Doubront, who labored and was beatable.
“When you work the starting pitcher to 100 pitches through four innings,” Wedge said, “you’ve got to do a hell of a lot more than that.”
But stern words weren’t applied to the bigger picture.
“There are points in the season when you evaluate things,” Wedge said, “and the halfway point is one of those times. It’s a time to look (at) the team physically, emotionally, fundamentally and mentally.
“If everybody takes care of their backyard,” Wedge continued, “the wins will take care of themselves.”
Sure. And as the wins take care of themselves, realize it’s merely a matter of time before the Mariners announce themselves as playoff contenders.
They’re on pace to win as many as 90 games, in firstname.lastname@example.org