The idea was to get away for a long weekend, rekindling decades-old friendships — to borrow from the Smokey Robinson lyric — that age and time can never destroy.
The plan called for a brief respite from the Mariners, who seem bent on establishing their own law of physics: Every step forward must be followed by a corresponding step backward. Because monitoring these guys on a regular basis is such a grind, I decided the break had to be complete, a clearance sale of the mind.
Besides, maybe they’d surprise me. Maybe they’d assemble the kind of hot streak that all teams — even those without hope — enjoy once or twice a summer.
The Mariners didn’t surprise me. The franchise whose marketing motto is “true to the blue” remained true to the blues, failing to gain traction while splitting a series at Kansas City.
Taking two of four on the road, against a wild-card rival, fulfills any definition of “OK” But losing starting pitcher Felix Hernandez, placed on the disabled list with a biceps-bursitis ailment, fulfills any definition of “Uh-Oh.”
Remember when Felix was a pillar of durability, good to go every five days for six months at a time? At 31, he no longer resembles that pitcher.
Shoulder bursitis sidelined him between April 26 and June 23, and while there’s a possibility the injuries may not be linked, I’m inclined to connect the dots.
Absent Hernandez, the rotation is reduced to one legitimate ace — James “Big Maple” Paxton — and a hobo-stew collection of others whose only reliable trait is their unreliability.
“Big Maple and the Holding Company,” sounds like the name of a kick-butt band, but as a starting staff, it ranks as the weakest in the 40-year history of the Mariners.
The first game of last Sunday’s doubleheader at Kansas City provided the challenges facing manager Scott Servais in a nutshell. The visitors scored three in the first inning and four more in the second, giving starter Marco Gonzales a 7-0 cushion heading into the bottom of the third.
All Servais needed to do to protect that comfortable lead was make seven pitching changes, burning up a bullpen on an afternoon his team was scheduled to play 18 innings.
When you’re in a congested scrum for a wild-card berth, I suppose there is no such thing as winning ugly. But using seven pitchers to nurse a 7-0 lead into an 8-7 victory, that’s about as ugly as ugly gets.
In any case, I’m glad I was spared the agony of watching such a thrilling victory. So is my TV set.
That Royals rookie Jakob Junis, a last-minute roster addition for the doubleheader, retired the last 19 batters he faced in the nightcap was almost a blessing. Better to get beaten in a 9-1 blowout than to hang on in a close game without any fresh bullpen arms.
As the Mariners were winning and losing in Kansas City, serial-trading general manager Jerry Dipoto went back to the market, acquiring A’s All-Star first baseman Yonder Alonso in exchange for outfielder Boog Powell.
Alonso fills a sort-of need — a left-handed hitter who’ll platoon with the right-handed Danny Valencia — and the price wasn’t steep. Amid the logjam of such relatively young and athletic outfielders as Ben Gamel, Mitch Haniger and Miguel Heredia, Powell profiled as a fourth outfielder with the Mariners.
Although Alonso, a prospective free agent, was brought in as a two-month rental, it’s a sensible trade that figures to intensify his competitive juices.
“Surprised but excited, going to a team that is one game out of the playoffs,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday. “I get to play some meaningful baseball, which will probably be the first time in my career I’ll be able to do that. I’m ecstatic.”
It’s good to know Alonso is ecstatic about his opportunity to play some meaningful baseball, and I’m not sure there’s a more appropriate first name for a power hitter than “Yonder.”
But beyond Paxton, the Mariners starting rotation is a desperate mess. Five days of rest and relaxation, oblivious to the wild-card standings, did nothing to ease my doubts about Big Maple and the Holding Company.