The Mariners finally figured it out: Keep doing the outlandish and the ridiculous to the point that most of the Class AAA roster is in place, then run down the Astros for first place in the American League West before anyone understands how it happened.
Hey, Donald Trump proved the model.
Improvising on a moment-to-moment basis, the Mariners (17-17) unaccountably have won six of their past seven games to reach .500 for the first time this season.
As a couple of shaky starting pitchers, Ariel Miranda and Yovani Gallardo, wobbled and weaved, the offense offered 21 runs of cover in two triumphs in Philadelphia. More remarkably, they did it without Nelson Cruz, the formidable designated hitter who was ineligible to play in a park of the National League, where the savages allow pitchers to hit.
With four-fifths of the projected starting rotation in training-room repose, the Mariners don’t really know who will start until the remaining apprentices finish a pre-game ritual of paper-scissors-rock. Yet the club took consecutive series from the Angels, Rangers and Phillies mostly by scoring 53 runs over the past seven games.
“That’s kind of the formula for us right now,” Scott Servais said after an 11-6 win Wednesday (box). “Have our starter keep us in the game, go to the bullpen, and maybe shorten the game a little bit. Keep it tight enough where our offense can figure it out. It’s worked out well.”
Not that there was a choice of strategies.
RHP Hisashi Iwakuma was a latest to go down, with shoulder inflammation likely to keep him out a couple of weeks. That follows the departures Felix Hernandez (shoulder), Drew Smyly (elbow) and James Paxton (forearm), leaving Gallardo like Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti Western — one against the many, armed mainly with a squint.
The Mariners mound world lately is populated by people named Chase De Jong, Dillon Overton and Christian Bergman. They are not to be confused with Wade LeBlanc, Donn Roach or Arquimedes Caminero, some of the warriors of the instant who flitted through Seattle a year ago on the way to helping set a franchise record — most pitchers used, season (32).
The 2017 Mariners apparently will not let that stand.
They are up to 21 pitchers as of Wednesday, with another AAA callup, Sam Gaviglio, replacing Iwakuma. The season hasn’t reached Memorial Day. And they don’t have a pitcher declared for Saturday, the third game of four in Toronto.
In 2016, the Mariners used five starters all the way through May (Hernandez, Iwakuma, Nathan Karns, Wade Miley and Taijuan Walker) and were the last AL team to need a sixth. But by the end of the season, they went through 13 starters, including the original five.
Including position players, the Mariners in 2016 used 54, another club record by three. The disabled list set another record with 19 players, and that didn’t count CF Leonys Martin (14 games) and SS Ketel Marte (30), who were not listed.
Theories abound about whether the Mariners are improperly conditioned, misused, misjudged or cursed. While the temptation is strong to blame the return of the upside-down trident, a logo that in Greek lore brings bad luck when it isn’t pointed up, I vote for coincidence — with an asterisk.
General manager Jerry Dipoto is big on buying low in free agency, seeking players who had an off-year relative to their histories, and anticipating bounce-backs. Every club offers a version of this, but no one has churned an MLB roster the past two seasons as the Mariners. Hell, Dipoto has acquired several players who never put on a uniform before being dealt away.
But since every player’s off-years and injuries are a little different, there’s a lot of educated guesswork involved in forecasting rebounds. Certainly Dipoto has done well on the offensive side — the Mariners are second in the AL in runs scored and fourth in OPS, and newcomer SS Jean Segura’s .365 average leads the league — but The Force is not strong in him regarding pitching.
After Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Rangers, manager Scott Servais summarized the problem succinctly: “There will be times when you don’t know quite what you’re going to get.”
That’s the problem for the near-term — Servais and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. share Forrest Gump’s travail regarding a box of chocolates.
During a phone interview on ESPN 710 Wednesday, Dipoto tried to sound positive about a pitching staff that is slings, limps and bandages.
Speaking of Hernandez and Paxton, he said, “We are somewhat optimistic that we’ll get those guys back toward the tail end of the next homestand, or as we head back out on the road as we start the (next) trip.”
As long as the Mariners keep averaging seven runs a game — the record is 9.2 by the 1894 National League Boston Beaneaters (it’s a good day when I can write, “Beaneaters”) — the fellas can take their time.
Surely, Overton/De Jong/Bergman/Miranda have this. Whoever they may be.