This one is probably the low point of the Seattle Mariners’ season to date.
They would say, rightly, that this first half of the season has been mostly filled with moments of the good variety.
Not this day.
Not with James Paxton walking off the mound alongside a trainer with two outs in the first inning. Not with the Mariners’ offense going dark after the first inning. Not with Albert Pujols (twice), Justin Upton and … David Fletcher among those teeing off on Mariners pitching.
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And to top it all off, Ken Griffey Jr. no longer holds sole possession of the sixth-most home runs in baseball history.
The Mariners were sent packing to Colorado after an 11-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, with the Halos winning the three-game series in the process.
The Mariners (58-36) have lost five of their past eight games and the Oakland Athletics, who took three of four games from the Houston Astros, have now closed in to within five games of Seattle for the second wild card.
But there was good news for the Mariners regarding Paxton. He didn’t think the injury was serious, but he first felt it in his bullpen before the game and dealt with it in last week’s start, as well.
“I was hoping it would loosen up,” Paxton said. “I went into the game hoping the adrenaline would get me through it. But I wasn’t getting extension, there was no life on the ball and they were just floating in there.
“When it’s coming in there and there’s no life on it – for me, it’s not going to go well.”
What a day.
And it had utility player Andrew Romine pitching in the bottom of the eighth inning.
It went from a 5-1 Angels lead to 9-1 after Upton hit a three-run home run off of Nick Rumbelow in the bottom of the sixth inning. Pujols made it back-to-back homers with his towering solo shot the next batter.
That was Pujols’ second homer of the day, giving him 630 homers for his 18-year career. That ties Griffey for sixth-most in major-league history with Willie Mays next on the list at 660 career homers.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href="https://twitter.com/PujolsFive?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@PujolsFive</a> ties Ken Griffey Jr. on the all-time homer list. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TipOfTheCap?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TipOfTheCap</a> <a href="https://t.co/IBjVzyg5vn">pic.twitter.com/IBjVzyg5vn</a></p>— MLB (@MLB) <a href="https://twitter.com/MLB/status/1017632343337656321?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">July 13, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Pujols’ three hits also tied him with Rickey Henderson, another former Mariner, with 3,055 hits, the 25th-most in baseball history. He’s approaching Craig Biggio (3,060) and Ichiro (3,089).
Back to Paxton.
He was helped off the field after Pujols’ first home run, a two-run shot with two outs in the first inning.
The Mariners later announced that Paxton left because of a stiff lower back. Felix Hernandez is currently on the 10-day disabled list with a stiff back.
“Nothing serious,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters afterward. “He’s been checked out by doctors here. Obviously that was his last outing before the All-Star break so he’ll have some time to calm it down and recoup and I fully expect him to come out of the break and be ready to go.”
But of maybe as much concern – this Mariners offense.
They took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Dee Gordon reached on an infield single then headed to second base on pitcher Tyler Skaggs’ throwing error.
Two outs later, Kyle Seager lined a single to right field and Gordon slid home in time for the score.
That was as good as it got for the Mariners.
We’ll get to their pitching.
But their offense posted nothing but zeros on the scoreboard the rest of the way until the top of the ninth inning, when it was already 11-1 Angels. Guillermo Heredia doubled to score Denard Span from first base, but that was it.
That was on par for the series for them. The Mariners scored four runs in the first innings of these three games. They scored four in the other 24.
“Offensively we’re getting deep into at-bats, but we’re not winning at-bats,” Servais said. “Teams are pitching us a certain way and we got to make adjustments with certain guys. We got a lot of offspeed pitches and we’re getting some to hit and we’re not hitting them.”
They did win Wednesday’s game, 3-0, because Marco Gonzales pitched seven shutout innings.
But they followed with one extra-base hit in Thursday’s game – Guillermo Heredia’s RBI double in the top of the ninth, with the Mariners trailing 11-1.
Meanwhile, the Angels hit two extra-base hits in the first inning of this one.
David Fletcher led off the bottom of the first and sent the second pitch he saw from Paxton, a middle-of-the-plate fastball, for his first major-league home run.
Pujols later that inning sent Paxton’s 93-mph fastball over the fence for a two-run shot and a 3-1 Angels lead.
The Mariners pulled Paxton and turned to reliever roulette.
Chasen Bradford allowed one run on three hits in 2 1/3 innings. Nick Vincent pitched a scoreless fourth inning. Juan Nicasio allowed a run in the fifth. Nick Rumbelow was pegged for those back-to-back homers and four runs in the sixth. Roenis Elias pitched a scoreless seventh.
Then Andrew Romine.
Yes, the Mariners utility player. He took the mound for the eighth inning to make his fifth career pitching appearance because the Mariners wanted to spare their already taxed bullpen for their three-game series upcoming in high-altitude Colorado against the Rockies.
A few takeaways:
For this three-game series the Mariners were outscored 20-8.
They’ve been outscored 39-11 over their past five losses, including a 9-3 loss to the Angels on Tuesday.
So what does that mean for their season run differential?
The Mariners still have the fourth-most wins in the major leagues, but are now plus-five in the run differential department – despite being 22 games above .500.
In other words, when they win, they win close. When they lose … they haven’t always been pretty.
Contrast that run differential with the American West-leading Houston Astros, who entered Thursday at plus-180.
Yes, and the Mariners are just three games back of the Astros … with a run differential difference of 175.
The Mariners are five games ahead of the surging Oakland Athletics for the second wild card. The A’s have a run differential of plus-25.
James Paxton looked off from the get-go.
Then he looked like he was stretching his lower back on the mound before Mariners trainer Matt Toth jogged out of the dugout followed by pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. and manager Scott Servais. Next thing you know, Paxton was walking off the field.
He’s mentioned throughout this spring and the first half of this season how health is the key for him after injuries cut much of his past two seasons short.
But the Mariners were likely just being cautious, especially with his history and the All-Star break coming up.
“I think this is just a really small thing,” Paxton said. “Nothing that will linger or stay around.
“I wanted to go out there and finish strong and help us win the series. It’s all about winning games. They all count. We all want to make it to the postseason. I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to give a good effort. I tried. I really wanted it. I just wasn’t able to do it.”
Paxton has already pitched 119 1/3 innings this season in 19 starts. He had 24 starts and threw 136 innings all of last season and 20 starts and 121 innings in 2016.
He entered Thursday with an 8-3 record and 3.49 ERA. Paxton tossed his first career no-hitter and did so on his native Canadian soil against the Toronto Blue Jays on May 8.
The Mariners offense this series?
They got a three-run homer in the first inning from Mitch Haniger in Tuesday’s 9-3 loss.
They got Nelson Cruz’s two-run single and David Freitas’ solo home run on Wednesday in a 3-0 win.
Then Kyle Seager hit a two-out RBI single in the first inning on Thursday before Guillermo Heredia’s RBI double in the top of the ninth in this 11-2 loss.
That was the extent of the Mariners’ offense in three games.
Since an 8-7 win in 11 innings over the Orioles, the Mariners have averaged 3.3 runs per game over their past 13 games.
Play of the game
The Mariners were still sort of in this when the Angels had a 5-1 lead in the fifth inning.
Then Justin Upton hit a three-run home run off of Nick Rumbelow. Albert Pujols followed a batter later with this second home run of the game. So then it was 9-1, Angels.
Albert Pujols and Ken Griffey Jr.
They are tied for the sixth-most home runs in baseball history after Pujols hit two home runs against Griffey’s former team. Willie Mays is next on the home-run list with 660.
Pujols also had three hits to tie Rickey Henderson on the all-time hits list with the 25th-most in baseball history (3,055). He also passed Rod Carew on Thursday and is closing in on Ichiro (3,089 hits).
Hey, Andrew Romine got Mike Trout to fly out to center field … just saying.
You knew it was bad when the Mariners called on their utility player to pitch the bottom of the eighth, just to spare the Mariners’ bullpen ahead of a three-game series in high-altitude Colorado.
Romine was the seventh pitcher the Mariners used to pitch eight innings. All but Nick Vincent and Roenis Elias allowed a run.
Angels starter Tyler Skaggs pitched six innings, allowed five hits, one run and struck out five.
It seemed likely the Mariners would send Paxton to the 10-day disabled list on Friday in order to regroup and have enough pitching to get through the three-game series in Colorado before the All-Star break. Paxton wouldn’t have pitched until at least July 20, anyway.
“We’ll talk about it the roster moves that need to happen,” Servais said. “Obviously going into Colorado for the weekend series you want to make sure you have enough pitching to get through that. We’ll make a few roster moves here. We’ll talk about it tonight and get ready to go to Colorado tomorrow.”