Mariners Insider Blog

It’s now or never for Mariners after closing August with a thud

Can the Mariners pull out of their August slide and mount a postseason push in September?
Can the Mariners pull out of their August slide and mount a postseason push in September? AP

There’s a point in every train wreck when the cars stop tumbling, the dust settles and a high-decibel silence temporarily descends from all directions.

The Mariners got a chance to reset Thursday when the calendar, in turning to September, provided them with an open date; a temporary silence of sorts, after they spent the last 11 days careening away from postseason contention.

"Guys will bounce back," general manager Jerry Dipoto declared. "They always do. That’s what players do. We’ve hit the floor before, and we seem to bounce back off. We’ll get home and, hopefully, we’ll get healthy.

"This road trip didn’t do a lot for us."

Not to minimize the damage of a 1-6 trip through Chicago and Texas, but the Mariners started their free-fall on Aug. 21 when they blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning at home in a loss to a hapless, last-place Milwaukee collection.

The Mariners were on a 14-4 surge as they carried that three-run lead into the ninth. They were poised to go 11 games over .500 for the first time this season and pull even with Baltimore for the American League’s final wild-card berth.

They also had a chance to close to within five games of first-place Texas in AL West Division after trailing the Rangers by 11 1/2 games as late as June 29. With seven head-to-head games remaining, a division title fleetingly beckoned.

All the Mariners needed to do was hold onto a three-run cushion for three outs against the Brewers, who had lost six in a row and were poised to complete a seventh straight game without ever holding a lead.

Welp…

Tom Wilhelmsen and Vidal Nuno gave up four runs and six hits in the ninth inning as the Brewers rallied for a 7-6 victory. Starting with that game, the Mariners are 2-9, including two walk-off losses on the just-completed trip.

"We need to get out of here," pitcher Felix Hernandez said after serving as the point man for Wednesday’s 14-1 shellacking at Texas. "We have a day off (Thursday), and then we start playing against the next day."

The math is grim as the Mariners, at 68-65, prepare for Friday’s start to a weekend series against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field. They have 29 games remaining but now must leap past five clubs for that final wild-card berth.

The latest computer projections from www.FiveThirtyEight.com calculate the Mariners as having only a 7 percent chance of reaching postseason. It was 43 percent prior to their 2-9 skid.

"We need to pick it up, no doubt," manager Scott Servais said. "It’s been a rough trip. Guys are down a little bit. Rightly so. The homestand is not going to be easy either. The Angels are playing well, and then we see Texas again."

Servais’ oft-stated goal throughout the season was for his club to be "playing meaningful games in September." Fine. Check that box.

It’s September, and the games are meaningful inasmuch as the Mariners, if they are to make a move — and end MLB’s longest postseason drought — that move probably needs to start now.

There is precedent. Their 14-4 surge through early August mirrored a sustained 25-12 run from mid-April through late May. The Mariners have shown they can do what they need to do.

For now, that’s the lifeline, and they’re holding on tight.

"Yeah, no doubt," said designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who should return Friday to the lineup after missing the last two games at Texas because of an injured hand.

"There are a lot of games left. We play the guys who are in front of us. So nothing is done. We just have to keep our heads up."

The schedule appears to offer opportunity. The Mariners play 16 of their remaining 29 games against three of the AL’s worst clubs: six against Los Angeles (58-74), seven against Oakland (57-75) and three against Minnesota (49-83).

One cautionary note: The Mariners, at this point, are just 14-14 against those three bottom-feeders. They also have six games left against Houston, four against Texas and three against Toronto.

More grim math:

A year ago, Houston reached (and won) the wild-card game after winning just 86 games. It was the AL’s lowest victory total for a postseason club in the four years since MLB added a second wild-card qualifier.

The Mariners, even if the bar remains that low, need an 18-11 closing kick to get to 86 victories. Tellingly, though, that was Dipoto’s rough projection in late January at the club’s annual pre-spring media day.

"We will start the season," he said at the time, "with the idea that we’re going to get into the mid-80 (range). We built the roster with the idea to get into the mid-80s…and then let the chips fall where they may."

On Wednesday, with the chips piling up after that season-worst loss at Texas, Dipoto remained upbeat when asked whether the Mariners had another run in them. Asked another way: Can they get the train back on the track?

"I don’t see any reason why not," Dipoto said. "Ten days ago we were playing as well as anybody in baseball. That’s the way baseball goes."

ROSTER REINFORCEMENTS

Just-acquired outfielder Ben Gamel and reliever Evan Scribner will join the Mariners prior to Friday’s series opener against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.

The Mariners are also expected to recall catcher Jesus Sucre from Triple-A Tacoma. No corresponding moves on the active roster are necessary because the rules permit teams to carry as many as 40 players after Sept. 1.

Further additions are likely over the next week.

The Mariners did need to make a corresponding move on their 40-man roster in order to activate Scribner from the 60-day disabled list. They cleared space by transferring right-handed pitcher Nathan Karns to the 60-day list.

Players on the 60-day disabled list do not count against the 40-man limit. Karns, 28, has not pitched since July 29 because of a muscle strain in his lower back. The move ends his season at 6-2 with a 5.15 ERA in 22 games, including 15 starts.

Scribner, 31, made eight rehab appearances at four minor-league levels in August after suffering a torn back muscle in spring training. He gave up two runs in 4 2/3 innings in four outings at Tacoma.

The Mariners acquired Scribner from Oakland in a Dec. 8, 2015 trade for minor-league pitcher Trey Cochran-Gill. Scribner is 5-2 with a 4.21 ERA in 125 big-league games over the previous five seasons.

Gamel, 24, was chosen Tuesday as the most valuable player in the International League after batting .308 this season with a .365 on-base percentage in 116 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

The Mariners obtained him from the New York Yankees on Wednesday in a trade for two low-level right-handed pitching prospects: Jio Orozco, 19, and Juan De Paula, 18.

Gamel made his major-league debut earlier this season by going 1-for-8 in six games for the Yankees.

Sucre, 28, is batting .276 in 28 games at Triple-A Tacoma after missing nearly three months while recovering from a broken leg suffered Jan. 17 while playing winter ball in Venezuela.

He has a .176 average in 84 big-league games over the last four seasons, including 1-for-8 in three games earlier this season.

MINOR DETAILS

The Mariners entered Thursday with a magic number of one for completing a seven-for-seven sweep in having their minor-league affiliates reach postseason.

Hi-A Bakersfield qualified Wednesday for at least a wild-card berth in the California League with a 15-7 romp at San Jose (Giants). That means at least one more home game for a franchise that is folding when its season concludes.

Triple-A Tacoma reduced its magic number to one for winning the Pacific Coast North Division with a 5-0 victory over Fresno (Astros). The Rainiers, counting Thursday, have five games remaining.

***Peoria advanced to Thursday’s championship game against the Angels in the Arizona Rookie League. The Mariners posted an 8-1 victory over the Reds on Wednesday when rehabbing catcher Steve Clevenger went 2-for-3 with a double.

***The Mariners’ club in the Dominican Summer League forced a decisive game in its best-of-three series Wednesday with a 4-3 victory over the Red Sox 1 club. The teams play Friday with the winner advancing to the DSL championship series.

LOOKING BACK

It was one year ago Friday — Sept. 2, 2015 — that utilityman Shawn O’Malley, who started in center field, went 3-for-4 with two RBIs in his Mariners’ debut and fueled an 8-3 victory at Houston.

SHORT HOPS

The Mariners completed their Aug. 6 trade that netted reliever Arquimedes Caminero from Pittsburgh by sending two minor-league pitchers to the Pirates: left-hander Jake Brentz and right-hander Pedro Vasquez. Brentz, 21, split the season at three clubs, going 5-2 with a 5.32 ERA in 20 games, including seven starts. Vasquez, 20, was 5-4 with a 2.26 ERA in 13 games at Rookie Peoria and Lo-A Clinton…left-hander James Paxton is scheduled to test the repaired nail on his middle finger Friday by throwing a regular between-starts bullpen workout. Paxton suffered a torn nail in the third inning of Tuesday’s start at Texas. If all goes well, he is scheduled to start Monday against the Rangers at Safeco Field…the Mariners have drawn 1,841,499 fans this season to Safeco Field for an average of 28,773 a game. If they average just 20,881 for their remaining 17 home dates, they will have their highest attendance since 2008.

ON TAP

The Mariners open a six-game homestand at 7:10 p.m. Friday with the first of three weekend games against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.

Rookie left-hander Ariel Miranda (1-1 with a 5.70 ERA) will face Angels lefty Brett Oberholtzer (1-0, 7.00). The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on the Mariners Radio Network, which includes 710 ESPN.

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners

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