SEATTLE – The Seattle Mariners continue to believe they can win the American League West Division, and they’re taking comfort in the fact that the stretch drive to the season hasn’t yet begun.
It’s approaching, however, and the Mariners need perhaps their biggest hot streak to prevent the Los Angeles Angels from pulling away.
The Angels continued their late-August thumping of the Mariners on Wednesday, unleashing another barrage of hits and solid pitching in an 8-2 victory at Safeco Field.
It gave the Angels a sweep of the three-game series and extended their lead in the American League West to five games over the M’s, who went into the series with a chance to take the division lead.
“I know the expectations were high,” manager John McLaren said. “Everybody is frustrated. But it wasn’t a do-or-die series and we’re still in good position.”
It will take a turnaround for the Mariners to remain in position for their first postseason berth since 2001.
After suffering through losing streaks of six, six and seven games early in the season, the Mariners have lost five straight. Thirty-one games remain, including a critical 10-game road trip that begins tonight with a makeup game in Cleveland.
“We’ve hit some bumps in the road, but we’ve always had the ability to come back and put a hot streak together,” McLaren said.
No bump has seemed rougher than what the Angels tossed in front of the Mariners this week.
They scored 24 runs in the series and thrashed Mariners pitchers for 43 hits, including 17 Wednesday. Felix Hernandez, considered the best hope to break the losing streak, struggled from the beginning and allowed 13 hits and six runs before leaving the game after seven innings.
“Everything I threw, they hit hard,” said Hernandez, 0-2 with a 7.30 earned run average this season in four starts against the Angels. “Every pitch I threw, they looked comfortable. I tried to mix my pitches, but whatever I threw they hit anyway.”
Hernandez didn’t help himself by throwing two wild pitches that led to runs, giving up solo home runs to Vladimir Guerrero and Jeff Mathis, and allowing the leadoff hitter to reach base in four of his seven innings, including the first three.
“I tried to fight and keep my team in the game,” Hernandez did.
He did through seven innings. The Mariners trailed 4-2 in the fifth inning and were within a big play of crawling back. Instead, they ran themselves out of the few opportunities they managed against Angels starter Jered Weaver.
Jose Lopez singled with one out in the fifth inning but was picked off first base by Mathis, the Angels’ catcher.
In the seventh, with the Mariners still trailing by two runs, Ben Broussard tried to run from first to third after Kenji Johjima’s one-out single to left field. Angels left fielder Garret Anderson threw him out.
The Angels then roughed up Hernandez for three straight hits before he was pulled in the eighth, and scored twice in that inning and twice in the ninth off right-hander Rick White.
“We need to pick it up in all phases of the game,” McLaren said.
The question, of course, is whether the Mariners are capable of doing that during the most critical time of the season.
McLaren says they can, and he points to a team dotted with veterans who have pulled from long losing streaks three times this season.
“I know everybody is feeling like, ‘Here go the Mariners. Here’s the nosedive,’ ” McLaren said. “We just need to straighten out a couple of things, score some runs and have some starters give us some innings and give the bullpen a little rest. I think we will do that.”