There’s no sugar-coating it and, after the Mariners’ skid deepened Wednesday night, manager Scott Servais didn’t try to do so,
"It’s a critical point in our season right now," he said. "It really is. We haven’t played well over the last 10 days or so. We’ve got to get it turned around and moving in the right direction heading into the All-Star break."
The Mariners have lost eight of their last 10. They have lost seven in a row at home. The latest hit came when Kansas City completed a three-game sweep at Safeco Field with a 9-6 victory in 10 innings.
Salvy Perez hit a two-run homer against James Pazos after an error by second baseman Robinson Cano provided the Royals with an opening. Kansas City is on the sort of surge the Mariners need: 18 victories in its last 24 games.
This was a bitter pill for the Mariners, who rallied back against All-Star lefty Jason Vargas, the league’s ERA leader, after the Royals spanked Ariel Miranda for four runs in the first inning.
The Mariners got home runs from Mike Zunino, Jean Segura and Nelson Cruz and led 6-4 going into the fourth inning. Kansas City pulled even on Lorenzo Cain’s two-run homer in the fifth.
That’s how it stayed until the 10th inning.
"We weren’t expecting this," Cruz said. "The offense was there today. I think we did a nice job of coming back from behind. It felt like, `We got it.’ They got some clutch hits, and their bullpen did a good job, too."
The Mariners are now 41-45 with four games remaining prior to the All-Star break. Oakland arrives Thursday night for a weekend stay.
Three takeaways from Wednesday’s loss:
***Cruz powers up: It’s an encouraging sign that Cruz hit a homer Wednesday — his first since June 4 — and came within, roughly, a foot of getting a second one. Like most power hitters, Cruz tends to hit homers in bunches.
"You just stick with your plan," he said. "Stick with your approach. And trust it."
It’s similarly encouraging that the Mariners didn’t fold after falling into an early 4-0 hole. But only up to a certain point.
"We needed to have that ballgame tonight," Servais said, "and we didn’t get the big hit when we needed it."
***Doing the math: The accepted approach is clubs can’t/shouldn’t think about anything else until they get to .500 — because clubs with losing records don’t reach postseason. The Mariners are currently four games under .500.
If you insist on doing the math, it’s getting grim.
While the Mariners are, even now, just four games behind in the race for the final wild-card spot with 77 games remaining — plenty of time, right? — they must go 45-32 just to match last year’s 86-76 record.
That’s a .584 pace. Over a full season, that works out to 95 victories. And 86 is a key number because it is the fewest number of victories that any American League had in reaching postseason in the double wild-card era.
Servais is right. The Mariners are at a critical point in their season.
***Haniger’s slump: Right fielder Mitch Haniger is hitless in his last 15 at-bats, and his ongoing slump is (or should be) forcing the Mariners to look at short-term alternatives.
Club officials remain convinced Haniger will be a lineup cornerstone for years to come. That might be true, but he’s batting .195 in 22 games since returning from a six-week absence resulting from a strained right oblique muscle.
For a while, Haniger drew walks and maintained a solid on-base percentage, but he hasn’t walked in eight games. His OBP is down to .313 since he returned, and his slugging percentage is a dismal .293.
That his slump covers 22 games is notable, too. That makes it one game longer than his productive 21-game start to the season, when he compiled a .340/.447/.608 slash.
The Mariners sat down a slumping Danny Valencia for a few days in late April. Since he returned to the lineup, he is batting .309 with eight homers and 36 RBIs in 59 games.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners