Given the sudden collapse of starting pitching – the Mariners have been humbled in three consecutive games by the softball scores of 10-1, 8-3 and 14-4 – the only realistic chance the club has of remaining in the American League wild card race lies with Felix Hernandez’s start Tuesday night in Toronto.
Hernandez is making his 33rd start with the Mariners two games back of Kansas City for the second wild card spot and has a 0.96 September ERA. The 0.96 would seem to give Seattle an edge — providing Hernandez can deliver his usual quality start. But it doesn’t, through no fault of Hernandez’s.
The Mariners far too often can’t take advantage of the Cy Young-style outings Hernandez routinely delivers. While Hernandez has posted a 0.96 ERA and .182 opponent batting average this month, he has only one win, a 2-1 victory at Oakland Sept. 3.
Since then, he racked up three consecutive no decisions despite allowing only two earned runs. In those three, the Mariners scored all of three runs while Hernandez was the pitcher of record. In his last outing, against the Angels Sept. 18, the Mariners scored none, wasting another of his double-digit (11) strikeout performances.
Hernandez has pitched four such games this year, topped by 15 strikeouts in a no-decision June 8 vs. Tampa Bay. He has 13 no-decisions this season, a career-high and tied for third in the majors behind Baltimore’s Chris Tillman (15) and Arizona’s Vidal Nuno (14).
In those 13, Hernandez has a 1.88 ERA spanning 86 innings, meaning that the Mariners probably wouldn’t have to sweat out the final week of the season if they had provided him adequate run support earlier.
Hernandez’s entire 10-year career is a monument to missed opportunities. Since 2005, his debut year, he has recorded 86 no-decisions, a total topped by only two other pitchers over that span – 90 each by Kyle Lohse and Matt Cain. What’s worse is that in 46 of those games, Hernandez worked seven or more innings and allowed two or fewer runs, but went to the dugout with nothing to show for it.
Looked at another way, innings pitched, Hernandez has one and a half years worth of no-decisions in his pitching log.
Most games 7+ IP, 2 or fewer runs allowed, no-decision
|343.2 IP, 1½ years worth of no-decisions
|1.52 ERA in these starts (Felix 1.34 in his)
|227 strikeouts in these starts (Felix 363)
|1.02 WHIP, best among the listed pitchers
|1.16 ERA, best among the listed pitchers
|1.18 ERA, 0.87 WHIP in 183.1 innings
|Pitched for the Mariners in 2013
|1.28 ERA, 0.86 WHIP in 168.1 innings
|1.60 ERA while pitching for Braves, Giants
The Mariners featured some of the best starting pitching in the majors for most of the season, leading the American League in ERA and WHIP through August. But with the exception of Hernandez, manager Lloyd McClendon is suddenly facing disarray.
Hisashi Iwakuma has a 9.12 ERA over his last six starts. Following his last feeble outing, McClendon confessed that he didn’t know why Iwakuma had gone south, saying only, “This is not a good time for this.”
McClendon then had to remove Chris Young from the rotation after he surrendered four home runs in his last start. With Young having thrown 165 innings, by far his most in a season since 2007, McClendon conceded, “I think he’s probably out of gas from a starting standpoint.”
The Mariners shelved Roenis Elias for the year due to a left elbow injury. Rookie James Paxton, who had pitched splendidly, couldn’t come through in his start Monday in his native Canada. The Blue Jays raked him for eight earned runs in 2.2 innings.
So it’s up to Hernandez Tuesday night. He’s 5-5 all-time against Toronto and 4-3, 3.21 in Rogers Centre. Hernandez almost always gives the Mariners a chance to win. Trouble is, they come up short giving Hernandez a chance to win.