In games such as the one Wednesday afternoon at Safeco Field, the Mariners seem as if they are on a leaking raft heading toward a distant shore.
Its clear whats going to happen. The only question is how fast they can paddle.
Their surprising success to date (28-27) is so pitching-dependent that no one would criticize rookie Michael Pineda if he unleashed one of his long arms across the clubhouse and dope-slapped the entire offense.
One run, said shortstop Brendan Ryan, who saw his 11-game hitting streak end. Thats just not fair to him.
Its been a season-long lament, and hardly surprising, given the lack of investment in offense during the off-season. But the unexpected dominance of starters and relievers has thrust the Mariners into an unexpected competitiveness. Peculiarly for this franchise and this time of year, it feels as if something is at stake.
Perhaps there is the mental health of the pitchers.
Too many nail-biters, is the way Ryan put it. It would be nice to draw first blood. When we dont, it means the bullpen has got to be perfect.
One blemish from a reliever a sinker from Jamey Wright that failed to sink led to Adam Jones solo home run in the eighth inning, the difference in a 2-1 defeat that allowed the Baltimore Orioles an escape from the oppressiveness of the Pineda heat.
In seven innings, the Mariners version of Baby Shaq (props to Shaquille ONeal upon his retirement day) struck out seven in seven innings, allowing a run on six hits. It was a good bounce-back from his slightly shaky outing against the Yankees and richly deserving of a W.
The night before, starter Doug Fister was in a similar deficit after pitching well, trailing 2-0 before Justin Smoak made things all better with a three-run homer to decide the game. But judging by production through 56 games, that stroke filled the seasonal quota of three-run, game-saving dingers.
Heres how manager Eric Wedge put it after Wednesdays loss:
Weve got a few guys here who need to be better . . . you can’t go up there and do the same things and expect different results.
Since they are not getting better, pressure is on Wedge and the front office to get some in-season tryouts underway.
Not from outside the franchise, however. The Mariners are highly unlikely to pursue offensive help because a) there isnt much to be had in MLBs worst hitting season in more than 20 years, and b) they already have dedicated $21 million in salary to do next to nothing.
Left fielder Milton Bradley ($12 million) has been fired and third baseman Chone Figgins ($9 million) has been benched, necessary moves but deadening more than 25 percent of the player payroll.
Thats like getting into the ring with one good arm and one good eye against Ivan Drago. Only theres no Hollywood ending.
Remarkably, the Mariners dodged and ducked their way to the best May (15-11) in four years despite hitting .228 as a team. Here’s one of the unorthodox routes they have taken: With 11, the Mariners lead the major leagues in bases-loaded walks. Thats 11 runs scored by having the courage to do nothing.
The Mariners are getting miserable production out of left field, third base and DH.
Theyve already tried two minor leaguers in left, Carlos Peguero and Mike Wilson, and neither has seized the opportunity. The incumbent, Michael Saunders, is hitting .168. Figgins is almost helpless at the plate and becoming vulnerable in the field. At DH, Jack Cust has one more home run than the Mariner Moose.
At Triple-A Tacoma, the Mariners have moved infielder Mike Carp to left field, where he is hitting .312 with 14 homers and 43 RBI. Hes played 34 games with the Mariners over parts of two seasons.
Second baseman and media darling Dustin Ackley is hitting .292 with an OPS of .866, but is still learning his position, one that is adequately staffed in Seattle.
Other prospects such as Alex Liddi and Greg Halman will merit a look. It’s time.
Normally, such looks would happen with September call-ups. But this is a freakish season in which two abundances have collided Mariners pitching and AL West mediocrity to create a sort of odd opportunity where there was forecast to be nothing.
The opportunity is not worth sacrificing the future by being a trade-deadline buyer. But it is worth trying out premier prospects in midseason, even if it starts some service-time clocks running.
There is a splendid pitching staff here, waiting politely so far for the offense to pick up a paddle and get to shore ahead of the sharks.