The Seattle Mariners continue to struggle to score, the Houston Astros continue their stranglehold atop the American League West and the Oakland Athletics continue to win.
With the Mariners’ 8-3 loss on Wednesday at Safeco Field, the Astros rebounded the final two games to take the series.
And with the Athletics’ win over the Blue Jays on Wednesday, the A’s and Mariners are now tied for the AL’s final wild card to the playoffs with two months of the season to play. Both are chasing the Astros, who hold a five-game lead.
The Mariners (63-45) are 10-14 since July 1 and Oakland (64-46) is 18-8.
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Mariners manager Scott Servais is far more concerned about the state of his own club than worrying about those surging Athletics.
“We need to play better baseball – I’m not worried about anybody else right now,” Servais said. “We need to get back to playing like we’re capable of playing. It just hasn’t happened here recently.
“We’ll have a good game here or there but we need to start putting streaks together. Quality game after game and good pitching and more importantly we got to do more offensively.”
The Astros tallied 15 hits against Mariners pitching after Seattle allowed 15 in a 5-2 loss on Tuesday.
Keep in mind, the Astros did this without Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer, who were out with injuries.
Wade LeBlanc was hit for a season-high seven runs in 4 1/3 innings and he struggled to command his pitches. Marwin Gonzalez hit two homers off of him and Jake Marisnick hit a two-run shot.
“Sucks to have a team in it and fighting for it and then you come out and put up a game like today,” LeBlanc said. “My arm felt a little slow today. The finish wasn’t there at the end, which takes life off the pitches and movement.
“It’s one of those things where it happens in baseball and you flush it and more forward.”
His line was made worse when Nick Vincent allowed a three-run homer to Max Stassi, the first batter he faced taking over for LeBlanc in the fifth inning.
That was all the runs Houston needed.
Especially with the Mariners’ offense in cold storage. The Mariners season run differential now stands at minus-11 – the Astros are at plus-185, the A’s are at plus-51.
“We’ve got to get back to winning series,” Servais said. “When you win the first game and you lose the next couple you leave with a pit in your stomach.”
Seattle did get to break in two of their trade-deadline acquisitions. Center fielder Cameron Maybin, acquired Tuesday from the Marlins, went 1-for-2 with a single and two walks and right-hander Adam Warren pitched a scoreless seventh inning in his first Mariners appearance since being traded from the Yankees.
Maybin played on the Astros’ World Series team last year, so he knows how difficult these next two months are going to be.
“That’s what you play for,” Maybin said. “Nobody ever said it’s going to be easy, but it makes for a very fund brand of baseball. Each game counts, each pitch, each out and we just got to continue to stay positive and do our best to get something going.”
But at some point the Mariners have to break out of this month-long stretch of little to no offense. They scored seven runs in this three-game series.
No team in the majors scored fewer runs in July, with the Mariners averaging 3.35 runs per game, and Wednesday was the 16th time in their past 24 games they’ve scored three runs or fewer.
Translation – Robinson Cano cannot return soon enough.
He was allowed to begin playing in minor league games on Wednesday for the first time since his 80-game suspension for violating major league baseball’s joint drug agreement, but he’s choosing to remain training at his complex in the Dominican Republic for the time being. Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said Wednesday night that they were still determining when Cano would actually begin a rehab assignment before his Aug. 14 return date.
The Mariners were already missing Kyle Seager (paternity leave) and Ryon Healy (a late scratch because of back stiffness). Seager is expected to return to the Mariners on Thursday.
But other pieces missing: Denard Span, who is batting .301 since he joined the Mariners in late May and has been the Mariners’ most consistent hitter over the past month, got the day off against Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel, and Ben Gamel, who was batting .338 over his past 49 games, was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma after Tuesday night’s game.
That left the Mariners with a bottom third of the order of Guillermo Heredia (.227 average), Andrew Romine (.200) and Zach Vincej (season debut).
Raise your eye brow all you want, but Mike Zunino and those three combined for four consecutive hits in the second inning, with Romine picking up his first RBI of the season and Vincej the first of his career with back-to-back bases-loaded singles to cut the Astros’ lead to 3-2.
Vincej got the ball afterward and plans to find somewhere to display it at home. He was being thanked in the clubhouse afterward after being told he’ll head back to Triple-A Tacoma to make way for Seager’s return.
He didn’t find out until 40 minutes before the start of the game, he said, that he was starting in Healy’s place.
“It was exciting,” he said. “You try to come to the ball park prepared even if you don’t see your name on the lineup card in the very beginning. Something might happen.”
But after his RBI, Dee Gordon lined out to second base and Romine was doubled off to end the inning with the bases still juiced.Then the Astros took off. The Mariners didn’t get their next run until Nelson Cruz’s solo homer in the sixth to cut Houston’s lead to 8-3.
The Astros took a 3-0 lead in the second inning. LeBlanc left a two-season fastball down the middle of the plate to Gonzalez and then a changeup to Marisnick in the second inning.
LeBlanc tossed another middle-high fastball to Gonzalez in the fourth inning for another solo home run. He was chased in the fifth following Alex Bregman’s leadoff double and then back-to-back singles from Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick, with the Astros leading 5-2.
Vincent entered and six pitches later Stassi launched a cutter high and off the plate for a three-run back-breaking home run for an 8-2 Astros lead.
Keuchel allowed three runs on eight hits against the Mariners in seven innings.
“We got Toronto coming in (for a four-game series) and we know what the ballpark will be like – there will be some Blue Jays fans, which will be fine,” Servais said. “I don’t really care.. But we got to get back to playing better baseball, putting some rallies together, having good at-bats and getting over the hump here.”