Chicago Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson, top, forces out the Seattle Mariners’ Jorge Polanco (7) at second base and makes the throw to first for the double play against Mariners’ Ty France to end the eighth inning of Sunday’s game in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Chicago Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson, top, forces out the Seattle Mariners’ Jorge Polanco (7) at second base and makes the throw to first for the double play against Mariners’ Ty France to end the eighth inning of Sunday’s game in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Hitting woes plague Mariners again in series loss to Cubs

Seattle ended the weekend 6-10, and the offense has been the main culprit.

  • Tyler Wicke, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Monday, April 15, 2024 10:47am
  • SportsMariners

In Sunday’s series finale and rubber match with the Chicago Cubs at T-Mobile Park, a game Seattle desperately needed, a Mariners offense plagued by early inconsistency and whiffs fell flat again.

When Cubs first baseman Michael Busch demolished a two-run homer to right field in the fourth inning, his fourth consecutive game with a home run, Chicago’s early, three-run lead felt insurmountable. And on Sunday, it was.

Uncharacteristically shaky through three starts, Luis Castillo turned in perhaps his strongest outing of the season, but the Cubs hung on to Sunday’s finale on a beautiful, sunny afternoon in Seattle, 3-2.

In front of more than 30,000 fans — many of them traveling Chicago fans decked in royal blue — the Cubs grabbed a first-inning lead and Seattle never caught up.

“That’s a frustrating loss,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “But you have to execute.

“We didn’t come through.”

Seattle was primed for a seventh-inning breakthrough when Dylan Moore was hit by a pitch and Mitch Garver walked with no outs, but Chicago called upon right-handed reliever Mark Leiter Jr., who induced Cal Raleigh’s fly out and Luke Raley’s inning-ending double play with the tying run 90 feet from home.

Another chance to tie Sunday’s game arrived for the Mariners an inning later when Cubs reliever Hector Neris walked Josh Rojas, J.P. Crawford, and Jorge Polanco in the eighth. But the rally was erased by Ty France’s second double play of the day (the team’s third) while the Mariners remained stuck in neutral.

It ended mercifully in the ninth, when Cubs closer Adbert Alzolay picked off pinch-runner Julio Rodriguez at first base, again the tying run. Servais initially rested J-Rod for a mental breather Sunday, but discarded those plans after Raleigh walked with two outs in the final frame.

“They gave us an opportunity to take the game and the series,” Servais said. “We just didn’t go grab it.”

Yet again four games below .500 (6-10), Seattle hitters still search for answers. Entering Sunday, Seattle’s .183 batting average among its 1-2-3 batters ranked at the bottom of the American League.

That number worsened until Mitch Haniger dribbled a fourth-inning swinging bunt down the third base line Sunday, good for Seattle’s first base hit after Cubs starter Javier Assad retired the first eight Mariners in order.

“You can’t rely on the home run,” Servais said. “When you do have traffic out there, having quality at-bats, figuring out a way to move runners across and moving them up… it’s not happening right now.”

Gilbert’s brilliance prevents Toronto sweep

The rotation widely considered baseball’s best suffered surprising turbulence in the season’s opening weeks — but Logan Gilbert’s dependability and consistency as Seattle’s longest-tenured starting pitcher ended the club’s earlier downswing.

On a Wednesday afternoon in Toronto where the Mariners offense struggled to produce runs and required near-perfection from Gilbert, he was every bit exceptional. The 26-year-old righty picked apart Blue Jays hitters and generated nine swings-and-misses with a still-blossoming slider, mixing his staple four-seamer across 7 1/3 brilliant innings.

“It’s exactly what we needed,” Servais said. “Executing pitches and not backing off. Staying in (counts) and controlling counts. All of the things that we preach about on the pitching side, he did it today.”

Gilbert matched a season-high eight strikeouts and walked one in Seattle’s extra-inning, 6-1 victory, avoiding a three-game road sweep at Rogers Centre after the Mariners faltered both Monday and Tuesday. Gilbert worked ahead in counts more often than not, touched 97 mph with his four-seamer, and purposefully forced breaking pitches down and away.

“I was trying to just be really stubborn about where I wanted to go with (my slider), and keep it there the whole game. Decent amount of the time, I felt like I got it down.”

Brash close to rehab assignment

Matt Brash (right elbow inflammation) threw a live bullpen session earlier this week and was scheduled to throw another on Sunday, Mariners general manager Justin Hollander told reporters on Saturday. Barring a setback, the club will assign the 25-year-old reliever with nasty secondary stuff to Triple-A Tacoma for a rehab assignment when the Mariners depart for Colorado next weekend.

“He felt good after the first (session),” Hollander said. “He really got after it.

“From what I understand, (his) stuff was really good. It was a full-go, I’m-gonna-let-it-eat live BP. He needs to do another one… (to) make sure he bounces back from it. We’ll take it outing by outing.”

RHP Bryan Woo threw an “up-down” bullpen on Saturday, with intermittent breaks to simulate game action. A live bullpen session comes next, then a rehab assignment on a similar timeline to that of Brash.

Short hops

Castillo holds the franchise record for most strikeouts through 50 career starts with the club (323). That record will grow; Sunday marked Castillo’s 48th career Mariners start. … From the always-informative Mariners game notes: Haniger homered on April 14 in three consecutive games in which he played on the date (2022, 2019, 2018). Seattle’s contest at Baltimore on April 14, 2021, was rained out, but Haniger homered in the makeup game at Camden Yards the following afternoon.

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