The gap between who the Seattle Mariners are as a team right now and the Houston Astros — a team they one day hope to catch, emulate or perhaps actually beat in a single game — feels like an endless expanse impossible to traverse.
The disparity in overall talent, depth, execution and results has never more noticeable than over the past season and two games into this season. A year ago, the Mariners went 1-18 vs. the Astros, losing all 10 games at Minute Maid Park and rarely looking competitive. That team, which featured a large group of transitional players there for one season, retread waiver claims and roster fodder, was the aftermath of an offseason purge of veteran players and salary.
The year’s version of the Mariners, a group featuring 14 players with less than a year of MLB service time but at least part of the team’s projected future, are now 0-2 vs. the Astros this season with Saturday afternoon’s 7-2 loss.
Reminiscent to last season, and similar to Friday’s loss in the season opener, the Mariners didn’t make the plays necessary to even give themselves a chance of beating a superior team like the Astros.
“Against this ballclub, this lineup is very deep, so if you don’t make a play or turn a double play or catch a ball that should be caught, now you’re extending innings and it’s tough to keep them down for long,” manager Scott Servais said. “Our guys’ effort is really good. … We’re two games into this and guys are still kind of getting a feel for where they’re at and the environment is certainly a lot different than what we’re used to as well.”
These plays on defense are not ghastly three-run errors, some of them aren’t even scored as errors, but they are plays that must be made when your opponent has a deeper and better lineup of potent hitters and a collection of starting pitchers that make scoring runs for an offensively challenged team that much more difficult.
Seattle starter Taijuan Walker, who was making his first real start in two years, deserved a somewhat better fate while taking the loss. Walker pitched 3.1 innings and was charged with five runs on seven hits with a walk and a strikeout. Given the long layoff layoff that stemmed from Tommy John surgery and some shoulder issues in his recovery, plus the short ramp-up during summer camp, it was a respectable outing. Walkers fastball sat 92-94 mph, and he showed hints of command and effectiveness with his secondary pitches.
And had his teammates made a couple of plays, his showing might have been much better.
With one out in the first inning and runners on first and second, Alex Bregman looped a line drive to right field. Second baseman Shed Long made an awkward and mistimed jump and failed to catch a ball that Dee Gordon grabs easily and the Astros scored a run.
But a four-run fourth inning ultimately doomed Walker.
He gave up a lead-off homer to Yuli Gurriel and then watched as Mallex Smith badly misplayed a line drive in right field that should have been an out. His miscue changed the course of the inning. Walker gave up a double to Kyle Tucker and was removed from the game. His replacement, Brandon Brennan, immediately gave up a two-run single to Martin Maldonado that made it 5-0, ending the Mariners’ victory hopes.
Besides Walker appearing to be healthy, the other positives were Kyle Lewis’ second homer in as many days — an opposite field blast to right field off of Houston starter Lance McCullers and a strong showing by J.P. Crawford and Kyle Seager at the plate. Crawford had two triples and a single and scored the other run of the game, while Seager had a pair of doubles