BOSTON — It was a fitting result to culminate the Seattle Mariners’ steady and unimpressive fall to below .500 for the first time this season.
On an unremarkable road trip where they’ve won just twice in eight games, including their most recent loss, a 14-1 drubbing by the Boston Red Sox on Friday night, they’ve now lost more games than they’ve won this season, giving them a record of 20-21.
And from about the third inning on, it was quite apparent that they weren’t going to win the game.
Rookie right-hander Erik Swanson struggled in his first visit to the hitter-friendly confines of Fenway Park, his replacement Anthony Swarzak, who was trying to pitch his way back into relevance in the bullpen, was just as ineffective as were the relievers that followed. The Mariners’ offense looked apathetic, registering only one late run after the game was all but decided.
For people outside of the Mariners’ clubhouse, below .500 was a place that was expected of the 2019 team. The organization made the offseason plan of taking a “step back” this season in order to build for the future.
General manager Jerry Dipoto made a slew of trades this offseason to cull the roster of veterans and experienced players that were bloating the payroll. In return, he got plenty of prospects, including Swanson, to build for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. But beyond the removal of stalwarts such as Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, Nelson Cruz and James Paxton, it was also the conscious decision to invest minimal money in the bullpen and the periphery of the roster, two reasons why the team wasn’t expected to succeed.
That group defied those expectations to start the season, hitting and homering its way to a 13-2 record as fans and outside media thought that there might be something more to these Mariners. While internally they know a regression to a realistic mean was coming, this fall wasn’t gradual. They were slapped in the face with a six-game losing streak after the torrid run. What has followed was the markings of a .500 team at best — win a few in row, lose a few in row, never gaining traction in any direction, well, until this road trip.
Since that 13-2 start, the Mariners have gone 7-19 over their last 26 games. The hitting and run-scoring slowed and normalized, the errors, which now total 43, continued and couldn’t be hidden by the offense and the pieced-together bullpen has been anywhere from ineffective to abysmal.
That’s not to say the Mariners are destined to remain under .500. The fluctuations of a baseball season say that they’ll have a chance to get back to a winning record. They’ve shown the ability rip off a winning streak, particularly against lesser or equal teams. Even though the Red Sox (20-19) finally got over .500 with the win, the Mariners are not their equal despite taking three of four from them in the first home series of the season. Even splitting the final two games of this series might be overly optimistic considering how the team has been playing on this trip.
When this road trip ends, they will have two games against the Oakland A’s and four against the Minnesota Twins, teams that don’t fall into the classification of being easily beatable.
Swanson was one of the key pitchers acquired in the step-back trades this offseason, coming to Seattle along with lefty Justus Sheffield and outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams in the trade that sent Paxton to New York.
After flirting with a no-hitter versus the Indians in his previous start, Swanson didn’t have quite the same pinpoint command with his off-speed pitches, leaving his fastball vulnerable to Red Sox hitters. Swanson pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowing seven runs on seven hits with no walks and four strikeouts.
After giving up a leadoff double to Jackie Bradley Jr. to start the third inning, Swanson looked like he could get out of it unscathed. But with two outs, Mookie Betts was able to bounce a ground ball up the middle on a 96-mph fastball off the plate for an RBI single to extend the inning. J.D. Martinez followed with a single to right and Mitch Moreland clobbered a first-pitch fastball over the wall in deep right-center for a three-run homer and a 4-0 lead.
Swanson gave up a leadoff homer to Rafael Devers in fourth inning on a misplaced 2-2 change-up that made it 5-0.
He never got out of the fifth inning. Moreland ended his night by smoking a change-up into left-center for an RBI double.
Swarzak entered and gave up back-to-back singles to allow another run charged to Swanson to score. He also allowed a solo homer to Andrew Benintendi in the sixth inning. It was the sixth homer Swarzak has allowed in his last seven games.
Lefty Zac Rosscup and right-hander Mike Wright combined to give up six runs in the final two innings.
The Mariners’ lone run came in the eighth inning. Domingo Santana notched his third hit of the night with a triple and later scored on Edwin Encarnacion’s double to left-center.