A 5-4 walk-off winner Friday, the Mariners trot out Aaron Harang against the Cubs Saturday. Harang allowed four earned runs in his past three starts.
GAME: Cubs (33-45, 4th, NL Central, -15.5 GB) at Mariners (35-45, 4th, AL West, -12.0 GB). GAME #: 81. SERIES: 2nd of 3 games. MEETING: 2nd (Mariners lead 1-0). WHEN: Saturday, 4:15 p.m., Safeco Field. STREAKS: Mariners W 1; Cubs L 1. TV: FOX. RADIO: ESPN 710, Mariners Radio Network
A 5-4 walkoff winner Friday in the openerof a three-game series against the Cubs, the Mariners play their 81st game Saturday, marking the halfway point of a 2013 season that has gone sadly (but predictably) awry, given their own expectations and those of an ever-shrinking fan base. In a season of damning stats, the most damnable of all: Seattle’s most productive hitter, Raul Ibanez, is 41 years old and doesn’t even play every day.
Maybe we should have seen this coming. Last year, Seattle’s best hitter was its backup catcher and John Jaso didn’t play every day, either. Jaso became expendable when the Mariners decided that Jesus Montero was the answer at catcher. Only he wasn’t.
It’s not hard to imagine where the Mariners would be without Ibanez (18 homers), Michael Morse (11) or Kendrys Morales (9), the three major offseason additions to the club’s offense. Morse and Morales have performed as expected, Ibanez has exceeded expectations, and so has Jason Bay (ninth homer Friday night), but the Mariners, despite a huge uptick in home runs, are no better off than a year ago, that due to the failure of so many of their young players.
Maybe Mike Zunino will be different. Brought up June 11 from Tacoma, Zunino delivered a walk-off single in the 10th inning Friday as the Mariners snapped a two-game losing streak. Impressively, Zunino worked the count full before delivering the game-winning hit, giving the Mariners their 35th victory against 45 losses. Last year at the 81-game mark, the Mariners stood 34-47.
“It was a giant sigh of relief,” Zunino told reporters. “Anything you can do to help the team win, that’s what I’m all about. I would have taken a sac fly, I would have taken anything in that situation.”
Michael Saunders and Ibanez led off the 10th with consecutive walks before Blake Parker was relieved by Shawn Camp. Jason Bay advanced the runners with a bunt, and Justin Smoak was walked intentionally to load the bases. That brought up Zunino, who succeeded admirably in an area that has been so disappointing for the Mariners this season — hitting with runners in scoring position.
Even with the win, the Mariners are only batting .236 as a team. That’s up just two ticks over last year’s .234. While home runs are up, 89 this year over 69 a year ago at the halfway point, overall run production is down, 288 this season to 316 at the same point last year, when the Mariners ranked 14th and last in the American League.
Aaron Harang will pitch the 81st game Saturday. Harang has eye-popping numbers over his last three outings — 1.89 ERA with 17 strikeouts (only one win to show for it), but over his past six Harang has pitched two shutouts and also been knocked out of the game before the sixth inning three times.
Despite an elating win Friday, Harang’s consistent inconsistency is also the story of the 2013 Mariners.
MARINERS: RHP Aaron Harang (3-7, 5.29 ERA, 1.31 WHIP)
The 35-year-old Harang, a San Diego native in his 12th major league season and first with Seattle, will make his 13th start and first against the Cubs. Harang has allowed just four earned runs in his past three starts, but only has one win to show for it, a 4-0 complete-game shutout over Houston June 11.
CUBS: Jeff Samardzija (5-7, 3.39 ERA, 1.19 WHIP)
The 28-year-old Samardzija, a Merrillville, IN., native in his sixth major league season, all with the Cubs, will make his 17th start and first against the Mariners. A fifth-round draft pick by the Cubs in the 2006 draft, Samardzija is coming off consecutive victories over St. Louis and Houston in which he allowed a combined five earned runs. He had his best start April 1 at Pittsburgh, holding the Pirates to two hits and no runs in 8.0 innings.
MARINERS STATS / NOTES
|6/29||Sat||vs. Cubs||RHP Aaron Harang (3-7) vs. RHP Jeff Samardzija (5-7)|
|6/30||Sun||vs. Cubs||RHP Jeremy Bonderman (1-1) vs. RHP Edwin Jackson (3-10)|
|7/2||Tue||at Tex||LHP Joe Saunders (5-8) vs. RHP Justin Grimm (7-5)|
|7/3||Wed||at Tex||RHP Felix Hernndez (8-4) vs. LHP Derek Holland (6-4)|
|7/4||Thr||at Tex||RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (7-3) vs. TBA|