Robinson Cano is back.
Are the Mariners’ playoff hopes back, too?
It doesn’t hurt to add your No. 3 hitter back to the lineup. But the issue of playing time for Cano, and where, is a potentially sticky issue for Seattle manager Scott Servais now that Cano has served his 80-game suspension for violating baseball’s joint drug agreement.
The lineup conundrum comes at a time when another of the franchise’s pillars, Felix Hernandez, has been uprooted from the rotation and thrown into the bullpen after posting a 7.27 ERA in his last seven starts.
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If troubles come in threes Servais has got to be wondering what’s next.
For the Mariners, what’s next is the most difficult part of their schedule to date. Cano is eligible to play Tuesday against the Oakland A’s, the team Seattle is now chasing for the second wild card spot in the American League.
That crucial three-game series ends Wednesday in Oakland but the opponents don’t get any easier after the A’s. The Mariners’ next nine games are against the two best teams from the National League West, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks, with the AL West best Houston Astros mixed in between.
The Mariners just swept those Astros, who will not only remember that but could be reinforced with regulars George Springer (thumb) and Jose Altuve (knee) back in the lineup.
And when it comes to lineups, the Mariners know how valuable it is to have all the pieces together. How it all fits with Cano back in it seemed as easy as a child’s jigsaw puzzle when the Mariners were rolling and seemingly a cinch to make the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
You add him when, and where, you need him. Second base, DH, first base… maybe even third base.
But GM Jerry Dipoto’s and Servais’ best laid plans disappeared faster than you can say negative run differential. The team slumped to a 10-13 record in July and had gone just 6-6 in August entering Monday’s game, even after sweeping four games from the Astros.
The Mariners, a team that has been outscored this season by 22 runs despite winning 58 percent of the time, desperately need something.
More hitting, better starting pitching, an Edwin Diaz clone. ... Something.
Can Cano add something that lifts the team from its doldrums? Or is his return, at this juncture, the thing hastens the slide?
To his credit, Cano said all the right things during his rehab stint in Tacoma last week.
“It’s not about myself, it’s about the team. I will do whatever and get ready down here,” said Cano, who ended his rehab stint with three games in Everett over the weekend and hit a combined .350 in 20 at-bats.
“It’s hard – it’s hard when you have to watch because I play 150 games a year. To sit down and watch the game and know if you was there you could be helping. But they’re a great team and they’ve played so good. You have to give credit to a lot of the guys. They fight, they working hard every day and they get themselves ready. They deserve a lot of credit.”
Servais could be the manager of the year if he can pull this off —guiding the Mariners into the playoffs after the rocky road they’ve come from being way up in the race to behind, with Cano’s suspension and now Felix’s demotion.
Servais doesn’t appear to be worried about what happens when Cano re-enters the clubhouse. Partially, that’s because Cano, up until recently, has remained around the team, working out at Safeco Field while rehabbing from finger surgery and being in contact with the players.
“I think everybody is looking forward to it,” Servais told reporters Sunday. “They know he’s part of the team here going forward. Players understand talent. I’ve tried to very open and talking to our guys about things coming down the pike here.”
There are 42 games left. It should be an interesting pike.