Should the Mariners’ season turn south from here, the game Saturday against the Angels will be fingered as the culprit — a 9-7 loss that squandered a five-run eighth inning, which had a near-sellout crowd animated as if it were late September, not mid-May.
Sunday? Not so much, a 3-0 loss (box) when Felix Hernandez pitched his best game of the season. That wasn’t a pivot point. That was tradition.
The idea that the Mariners were different this season took a hit over the weekend, not like the hit the Rangers’ Rougned Odor delivered to the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista Sunday, but a hit nonetheless.
The Los Angeles Angels, previously believed to be the sick man of the American League West with a six-game losing streak, smited the Mariners at Safeco Field in all three opportunities.
The home sweep produced three outcomes:
- It rescued temporarily the cynics who had been struggling to hang on to their Seattle baseball belief system.
- It dented the ego of Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto, who a year ago at this time was trying to convince Angels manager Mike Scioscia that use of advanced metrics would help his players a lot. Scioscia declined, loudly, Dipoto quit the Angels and found a new job with the more receptive Mariners. The season series in 2016: Old School 4, New School 2, 13 games remaining.
- It proved that as much as things have changed on this season’s roster and coaching staff, the Mariners were still capable of being shut out (this time on two hits) with Hernandez on the mound.
At one point, Hernandez had eight outs in a row via strikeout, beginning with the first out in the third inning through the second out in the fifth inning. It’s hard to be more “out” than the Angels were out against him. And they still won.
Said manager Scott Servais: “He was on top of his game — as good overall stuff as I’ve seen Felix have.”
Echoed C Chris Iannetta: “Early in the season his off-speed stuff has been pretty dialed in. His fastball was good, but not where he wanted it to be. Today it was awesome.”
Underscored Hernandez: “I was in command. Had everything. It was my best game the whole year.”
And they lost. In a game they needed to help keep hot air in the franchise balloon.
A sweep by the woebegone Angels would seem to suggest the Mariners are back to skimming the treetops. But Servais was unwilling to let go of his it’s-a-long-season mantra.
“When things are going well, it’s fun to ride the wave,” he said. “It’s a long season. You’re going to have bumps in the road. We didn’t get it done. It’s going to happen.”
Bumps? Sure. But being swept after sweeping not-bad Tampa Bay in the same home series?
“As high as we were early in the week (21-13 and in first place, equal to the fourth-best start in club history), to have it flip on us in the weekend, is frustrating,” Servais said. “But we play well on the road.”
Yes, the road. The place to get well. But in fact, they Mariners really aren’t sick.
They lost the first two games 6-5 and 9-7, and then Sunday ran into Angels starter Hector Santiago, who was actually better than Hernandez. He beat the Mariners in Anaheim April 25 allowing four hits and two runs, and was stronger Sunday.
The first hit Santiago (3-2, 3.42 ERA) gave up was in the sixth inning on a bunt single by newcomer CF Shawn O’Malley. Iannetta later singled, but that was it on an afternoon owned by Santiago.
So follow this logic if you can: The weekend looked bad for the Mariners, but it wasn’t as bad as it looked.
The one noteworthy problem is the Angels, and presumably the rest of the AL, appear to have figured out the sidearm delivery of closer Steve Cishek. Once that is neutralized, he possess neither the velocity nor the command of a premier closer. After going 10-for-11 in his first save opportunities, he blew consecutive saves. Not saying he isn’t redeemable, but as was said, it’s a problem.
And in the problem sidecar is Nick Vincent, who relieved Hernandez after 7.1 innings and gave up a hit to Daniel Nava that plated the two runners aboard on a walk and single.
Given that five relievers the Mariners penciled in for the bullpen in spring are on the disabled list, the fact that travail has arisen is no surprise.
Just as it is no surprise that the Mariners are often feckless when Hernandez is on the mound. If Dipoto finds a statistical solution to that, he’s the unanimous MLB executive of the year.