The Houston Astros were supposed to help the make the Seattle Mariners winners. Before the season, when trying to prognosticate just how many game the Mariners might win, the idea of having the Astros in the American League West was supposed to be a benefit.
With an overall payroll lower than Alex Rodriguez’s annual salary, a roster filled mostly with players that would be on most organization’s Triple A teams and expectations to challenge the 1962 Mets (40-120) for the worst season record in modern baseball history, the 19 games against the Astros were supposed to be gimmes for a supposedly improved Mariners team. A record of 14-5 or 13-6 against the Astros could be envisioned, which would help the Mariners challenge for a .500 record.
Really, only one of the predictions came true – the Astros were bad, just not quite ’62 Mets bad. Still, the Astros weren’t bad enough for the Mariners, who haven’t sniffed a .500 since July, to dominate them.
On perfect late summer Wednesday night at Safeco Field, the Astros completed just their second sweep of the season with a 6-1 win over the Mariners. Houston’s other sweep came on May 31-June 3, when they won four straight over the Los Angeles Angels – also a colossal disappointment – in Anaheim.
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For the season, the Mariners went 10-9 against Houston (50-96). Not exactly what they had planned coming in. It’s not the reason Seattle won’t finish better than .500 or even near it, but it does show that Mariners weren’t good enough to make those assumptions.
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 on 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,” he said. “That’s the case with us. We’ve got some young bullpen guys out there that have had some moments. Our starting pitcher has had some moments. And we really haven’t seen much offensively. That’s a bad combination.”
It’s a combination that’s been evident on multiple occasions this season.
Now the Mariners find themselves with a 65-81 record. With 16 games left on the season, 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 road trip against the Cardinals, Tigers and Angels and home series with the Royals and A’s.
“We are playing teams that for the most part for the rest of the way that 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.”
So what can the Mariners do?
Well they had the team meeting after Tuesday’s game to address the lackluster play. Following Wednesday’s game, most players quietly packed up their gear to prepare for Thursday’s flight to St. Louis.
There is nothing more to say.
“Fight, that’s all you can do is keep fighting and keep scrapping,” Ibanez 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,” Ibanez said. “And we definitely can’t sit and feel sorry for ourselves.”
The Mariners handed the ball to Brandon Maurer on Wednesday in hopes that a season that featured a rotation spot out of spring training, some time in Triple A and a stint of long relief in the bullpen, could find him some consistency on the mound 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 while it was happening.
“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 him.
“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 pitched giving up five runs on seven hits with three strikeouts out and no walks. But he’d 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 expected him 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 lead-off 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.
Of course, Noesi wouldn’t have been pitching if the Mariners mustered any sort of offense to make it a game. They did not.
Kendrys Morales drove in the only run of the game, blasting a solo homer off of Astros starter Brad Peacock in the fourth inning. It was Morales’ 21s 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 came in the eighth, loading the bases against reliever Kevin Chapman to load the bases. But Astros manager Bo Porter called on lefty Josh Zeid to face Ibanez and got him to pop out to short to end the inning.