No team in the American League scored fewer runs in July than the 77 posted by the Mariners. So it is understandable that you may have reached for a hefty cocktail upon hearing the news Wednesday morning that they sent away a regular a batting .290, tied for fourth on the team (.798 OPS is third), to AAA Tacoma.
Perhaps Ben Gamel has a hygiene issue, or is a bad tipper, or doesn’t laugh at team jokes. What the Mariners claim as the reason for his demotion is Guillermo Heredia is a better defender who can play all three outfield positions. So, they say Heredia deserves to stay on the roster for now as the fourth outfielder, despite hitting lately as if he were attempting to catch a butterfly with a fry pan.
The logic for the puzzling move might be there somewhere. But after losing two of three at home to the division-leading Astros — missing injured stars Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer — including Wednesday’s dreary 8-3 defeat (box), the logic grew a little more elusive.
The Mariners scored seven runs in the series, suggesting the hitting sorrows of July were not confined by the calendar, and more in need of roster attention.
As a result of adding four reasonable but indistinct players in five days ahead of the non-waiver trade deadline, the Mariners seem engaged in much roster shuffling to minimal apparent improvement. Or maybe that’s the impression created by the fact that the Oakland A’s, an 8-3 winner over Toronto Wednesday, have caught Seattle in the standings, both 63-45.
Being run down by the perpetually scruffy franchise, the baseball equivalent of a smoky 1963 Corvair — six weeks ago, the Mariners led the A’s by 11 games — adds to a sense of unease among fans. The A’s do not share the Mariners’ problem of having to manage an over-abundance of talent.
For perspective on Seattle’s offensive slump, in July the Indians scored 153 runs, the Twins 142, Yankees 140, the Red Sox 134 and the A’s 133. The Mariners’ 77 runs were the worst in MLB.
But the lone offensive upgrade at the deadline was Cameron Maybin, 32, joining his seventh team in seven seasons, and ninth in 12. He replaced Heredia in center field Wednesday and had a hit and two walks.
“The energy he brings, he gives us another athlete, runner, who adds to the way we play,”
general manager Jerry Dipoto told reporters. “Over the last month or so, he’s been in a really good place offensively and has played a strong center field this year.
“He fits into the theme of what we’re doing.”
A cynic might suggest that the theme is a fall from grace and a high place.
Even though he’s a journeyman’s journeyman, Maybin is an uptick over Heredia, who will now platoon with Denard Span in left field. Span has been a trade-deadline steal from Tampa, only the theft occurred May 23. Whether the uptick is worthy of Gamel spending up to a month in Tacoma — at worst, he will return Sept. 1 when rosters expand — remains to be seen.
With the addition of Sam Tuivailala from St. Louis, Zach Duke from Minnesota and Adam Warren from the Yankees, the bullpen upgrade is noteworthy. But the acquisitions may be more of an innings-eating operation than an attempt at dominance.
And the additions bumped reliever Chasen Bradford, he of the 5-0 record and 2.70 ERA, to Tacoma with Gamel, again through no fault of his own.
Wade LeBlanc Wednesday had his worst performance of the season (seven runs on 10 hits in 4.1 IP), nearly on the scale of the previous outing of Felix Hernandez, who was so bad against the Angels that manager Scott Servais called it noncompetitive.
LeBlanc lost for the second time in his past four starts after winning his first five decisions. Now comes Hernandez, in the opener Thursday of a four-game series with the Blue Jays and their insufferable countrymen in the Safeco Field stands.
Hernandez needs to get into the fifth or sixth inning giving up less than four runs, or be rendered inert for much of the rest of the season. Realistically, the Mariners can’t demote him, trade him or send him to the bullpen. They might put him on the disabled list, in which case Dipoto’s moves become more understandable.
As Hernandez and LeBlanc falter, relievers new and familiar must deliver five and six innings a night, which gets us back to the departures of Gamel and Bradford.
“I still think Gamel and Bradford play a big role in us getting to the playoffs, I really do,” Servais said before the game. “It could be in two weeks, it could be on Sept. 1, but these guys are going to play and be a part of what we’re doing here.
“It’s just you can only have 25 on the roster right now.”
But those 25 were just caught by a smoky, 1963 Corvair.