By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — Four hours before his team began what would eventually become a seventh straight loss, Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon joked about his reaction to a brutal road trip.
“The sky’s falling,” he said, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “The Mariners are four games under (.500) and everything’s going to hell.”
McClendon was by no means happy to see his team lose a seventh straight game, especially at home against a Houston Astros squad that itself had lost seven straight coming into Monday’s game, and with Felix Hernandez on the mound, no less.
But what McClendon isn’t ready to do yet, as bleak as things looked on their recent road trip, then again in Monday’s 7-2 loss, is wave a white flag.
“I told my guys, ‘Relax, we’re no different than any other team in baseball. We’re going to have our funks, and right now we’ve got our funks and we’re four games under,’” McClendon said before his team dropped to five games under .500. “But last time I checked it’s a 162-game schedule, and this team will be fine. We’ve got to get our pitching straightened out obviously with our starting pitchers, we’ve been dealt a tough hand with that. We’ve just got to play it out, and once we get beyond that, I think this team will be just fine.”
McClendon reiterated that message after the game, saying, “Things are tough right now, but you guys can get your heads up, we’ll be OK. Don’t worry about it.”
As McClendon notes, the Mariners’ starting pitching is all sorts of unsettled right now with Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Blake Beaven on the disabled list, yet in spite of those issues, the Mariners came into Monday’s game with the third best earned run average in the American League. The bullpen is taxed because there have been too many short outings recently by starters not named Felix, but considering the injuries, Seattle’s pitching has been more pleasant surprise than cause for major concern.
Instead, it’s the offense that looked so promising in the first week of the season that has been more troubling. The Mariners rank near the bottom of the league in runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging, and recent lineup shuffling by McClendon has done little to change that. Also worrisome are some of the mistakes we’ve seen on the field, which on Monday included third baseman Kyle Seager dropping a sure out on a bunt attempt, leading to four unearned runs in the decisive sixth inning, as well as center fielder Abraham Almonte having a routine single roll between his legs to give the Astros a free base.
It’s easy to watch the Mariners falling out of contention early — again — and with the offense struggling — again — and get a here-we-go-again feeling about a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2001. But with so much season ahead of them, and with good memories of a fast start still fresh in their minds, players have to, as left fielder Dustin Ackley put it, “take those thoughts out of your head. You’ve got to be like, ‘Well, this was just a little funk, and we’re back home now.’
“If you look at all the games we played (in Texas and Miami), we probably should have won at least two or three of them. We look at that trip as, we should have been at least .500 on that trip. We’re that close from winning a lot of games. We haven’t hit our best and we’re still in almost every game. That just proves that once we do get back going again like we were at the start of the year, we have a good chance of winning every game.”
And while McClendon still believes his team can overcome this bad stretch, he’s also not sugarcoating the Mariners’ recent struggles. He realizes they’ve been bad, he takes his share of the blame for it, but he isn’t ready to throw up his hands and declare the season over.
“We had a good talk in Miami,” he said. “I told them, ‘Just relax. One thing about it, when you play well, you’ll be great, when you play bad, I’ll be horse (expletive), that’s just the way it is. I’m a big boy, I can take it, and right now, it’s on me. I didn’t prepare them the way they should have been prepared. We had a horse (expletive) road trip, we’ll get it back together. This team is going to be fine.”
The Mariners weren’t fine Monday, and now they’re battling the growing perception that this year is turning into last year, or the year before that, or the year before … well, you get the point.
“I see energy,” McClendon said. “I don’t see a lot of execution right now on a lot of different fronts. It’s a work in progress, we’ll be OK. It’s the 19th game of the season. It’s like I told you guys earlier, the sky is falling, now the Mariners are five games under .500, pack up your bags, the season’s over with. I think we’ll show up and play, we’ll be ready.”
McClendon’s sarcasm aside, the sky isn’t falling, it’s way too early for that kind of talk, but it is fair to wonder how much of this is a funk, as McClendon sees it, and how much of it is a sign that the Mariners are closer to being the team that has struggled mightily over the past two weeks than they are the one that got off to such a tantalizing start.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.