John McGrath

McGrath: Don’t bet on figuring out these Mariners anytime soon

Seattle Mariners’ Shawn O’Malley lays on the ground after being tagged out on an attempted steal by Minnesota Twins third baseman Eduardo Nunez, who threw to second to complete a double play in the ninth inning on Saturday.
Seattle Mariners’ Shawn O’Malley lays on the ground after being tagged out on an attempted steal by Minnesota Twins third baseman Eduardo Nunez, who threw to second to complete a double play in the ninth inning on Saturday. The Associated Press

A major league scout once told me a story about two friends in business — they were also scouts — who hatched a plan to convert their inside-baseball knowledge into a cash cow.

They withdrew their life savings from the bank and moved to Las Vegas, presumably to clean up on betting lines not set up by inside-baseball experts. Following trends and analyzing pitching matchups, they’d wager on the two or three games a day that struck them as sure things.

The idea was to stay through the conclusion of the season. They went broke by the All-Star break.

As the late pitcher Joaquin Andujar put it: “Everything about baseball can be explained with one word: ‘You never know.’ 

Going into their weekend series against Minnesota, we knew the Mariners were among the best teams in baseball and that the Twins were facing mathematical elimination sometime around Father’s Day. We knew Felix Hernandez would pitch on Friday and Taijuan Walker would pitch on Sunday, and that both starters were candidates to dominate a Twins team that brought a 4-19 road record to Seattle.

The Twins are now 7-19 on the road, having beaten the Mariners every way one baseball team can beat another — including a game-ending double play Saturday executed without a bat touching a ball.

When a ninth-inning rally is snuffed out on a dual pickle scored 2-4-5-6, it might be a sign the gods are not root-root-rooting for the home team. As if the goofy play wasn’t punishment enough, replay review gave umpire Mike Winters the chance to signal an emphatic “out!” at third, followed by an emphatic “out!” out at second. He seemed to enjoy himself.

But the Mariners’ problem over the weekend wasn’t the umpires. The Mariners’ problem was the top half of Twins lineup — specifically, Eduardo Nunez, Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano — that combined for 18 hits, 11 RBIs and six home runs.

“We didn’t get good pitching from our starters, and that’s key for any team,” manager Scott Servais said Sunday after the Mariners lost the series finale, 5-4. “Keeping anything going momentum-wise, starting pitching is what drives it. Our guys struggled. It’s gonna happen.

“Unfortunately, everybody struggled at the same time in this series.”

The Twins aren’t as awful as their 15-34 record suggests. The bullpen is a bit of a wreck, but the rest of the team looked downright competent at Safeco Field, where they’ve won eight of nine since 2014.

“You look at the middle of their lineup — Mauer and Sano — and see what they did to us this series,” said Servais. “They’re talented. I’m sure in their minds they’re playing below where they expected to be this season, but for whatever reason, they play well in Safeco Field and have in recent years.”

With their nemesis gone, the Mariners now face San Diego in back-to-back matinee games set for Monday and Tuesday. The Padres’ record — they are 20-31, 11 1/2 games out of first place in the National League West — is almost as abysmal as that of Minnesota’s, but after the Lost Weekend, Servais knows records can be deceiving.

“We didn’t take the Twins for granted and we will not be taking the Padres for granted,” he said. “I believe in our guys. We’ve got a good clubhouse, a good team. We’ve got a couple of guys who are out right now, but that gives an opportunity for another player to step up, which is what you have to do to get deep in the season and play meaningful games.

“That’s where we’re gonna be. Along the way we’ll have a few bumps in the road.”

You can bet on it.

I won’t.

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