SEATTLE — Wait a minute. Weren’t the Houston Astros supposed to help the make the Seattle Mariners winners.
With an overall payroll lower than Alex Rodriguez’s annual salary, a roster filled mostly with players who likely would be in Triple A for most organizations, and expectations that weren’t exactly aimed at the top of the American League West, the Astros were supposed to be 19 gimmes for a supposedly improved Mariners team that was hoping to achieve a .500 record.
Well, the Astros were bad, just not bad enough for the Mariners, who were swept out of Safeco Field on Wednesday night, 6-1, giving Houston its third sweep of the season, its first since early June.
For the record, the Mariners went 10-9 against the Astros (50-96). .
It was the third time they have been swept at home in a three-game series – all three coming in the last three weeks. Seattle
was swept in back-to-back three-game series by the Angels and Rangers from Aug. 23-28.
“When you are struggling at home or on the road, regardless of who you are playing, it’s usually not just one area of your club,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “That’s the case with us. We’ve got some young bullpen guys out there that have had some moments. Our starting pitching has had some moments. And we really haven’t seen much offensively. That’s a bad combination.”
And it’s one that has been visible throughout the season.
Now the Mariners find themselves with a 65-81 record with 16 games remaining. Seattle will have to go 8-8 to avoid losing 90 games and 10-6 to match last year’s record of 75-87. That won’t be easy with a 10-game trip against the St. Louis, Detroit and the Angels and home series with Kansas City and Oakland.
“We are playing teams that, for the most part for the rest of the way, are in it, and we are going to be in their own backyard,” Wedge said. “We’ve got one hell of a road trip coming up for us.”
Now, it’s all mindset.
After Wednesday’s game, most of the players quietly packed their gear to prepare for Thursday’s flight to St. Louis.
“Fight, that’s all you can do is keep fighting and keep scrapping,” Raul Ibañez said. “You just try and keep a positive outlook. The only way to make things is we have to make the change. We are capable of doing that.”
It won’t be easy to start with. The Mariners face Cardinals ace Adam Wainright (16-9) on Friday, followed by underrated prized prospect Michael Wacha (3-0) and then hard-throwing phenom Shelby Miller (13-9).
“In this game, nobody is going to hand you anything and nobody is going to feel sorry for you,” Ibañez said. “And we definitely can’t sit and feel sorry for ourselves.”
The Mariners handed the ball to Brandon Maurer on Wednesday night in hopes that a season that had him winning a rotation spot out of spring training, spending some time in Triple A, and throwing long relief in the bullpen, could result in some consistency with his delivery, his emotions and his results.
It did not.
After breezing through the first inning with two strikeouts, Maurer gave up two runs on three hits in the second and three runs on four hits in the third.
Maurer liked everything about the first inning, but he just couldn’t find that same feeling or repetition after that.
“I didn’t get extension, I lost a little bit of focus, lost some energy. I just wasn’t the same,” Maurer said.
And he couldn’t get it back.
“I wish it was that easy,” he said. “I was trying. But I was just leaving the ball up and over the middle of the plate and making the wrong pitches when I was ahead in the count.
Wedge has seen this before from Mauer.
“He came out so strong,” Wedge said. “But it’s been something he’s dealt with before – when he gets into trouble not being able to control damage or stopping it. It just dominoes on him. He’s going to have to learn to be able to be the same guy when things aren’t quite going his way as he is when things are gong his way.”
Maurer exited after three innings, giving up five runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and no walks. He had thrown 66 pitches.
“We knew we couldn’t take him too far because he hadn’t started in a while,” Wedge said. “But we were (expecting) to take him further than we did. He just had to work so hard those first three innings.”
The Mariners’ bullpen kept the Astros at five runs for the next five innings. Bobby LaFromboise threw two hitless shutout innings. Tom Wilhelmsen followed with a scoreless sixth inning despite a leadoff walk, and Oliver Perez allowed one hit and struck out three while pitching the seventh and the eighth.
Hector Noesi broke the scoreless string with yet another indifferent outing. He gave up a run in the ninth on three hits.
Noesi wouldn’t have been pitching had the Mariners mustered any offense to make it a game. They did not.
Kendrys Morales drove in Seattle’s run on a solo homer off Astros starter Brad Peacock in the fourth inning. It was Morales’ 21st homer of the year and 100th of his career.
Otherwise, the Mariners did nothing. Peacock threw six innings, giving up three hits while striking out four and walking one.
Seattle’s best chance to score more came in the eighth, loading the bases with two outs against reliever Kevin Chapman. But Astros manager Bo Porter called on left-hander Josh Zeid to face Ibañez, who popped out to short to end the inning.