The Mariners are in the midst of a collapse unlike any the franchise has experienced since 1996, when a Lou Piniella-managed club also crashed in late September.
To paraphrase manager Lloyd McClendon, there won’t be any ice cream for the Mariners at the end of this season. And probably no Cy Young Award for Felix Hernandez, either. With Seattle needing to snap a three-game losing streak at Toronto Tuesday night to remain relevant in the American League wild card race, King Felix uncharacteristically self-combusted, which has the Mariners suddenly reliving an 18-year-old nightmare.
We’ll get to that in a minute. The Blue Jays unloaded on Hernandez for seven runs in the fifth and humiliated the Mariners 10-2. That marked the most runs that King Felix allowed in an inning in his major league career, breaking his previous nadir of six. In other words, in the most important start of his career, Hernandez pitched the worst of his 2,055 innings.
The eight earned runs King Felix allowed before departing after a season-low 4.2 innings tied a career high, done Aug. 28, 2013 against the Texas Rangers. Perhaps that shouldn’t come as much of a shock. In 13 career starts against the Blue Jays, Hernandez has permitted six or more earned runs in six of them.
So the Mariners, who got out of bed on the morning of Sept. 20 a half a game back of Kansas City for the second wild card spot and one back of Oakland for the top spot, are in full collapse, having lost four in a row by a combined margin of 42-10.
As analyst Mike Blowers noted on Tuesday night’s Root Sports telecast, the Mariners suffered a similar collapse in 1996.
On Sept. 12 that year, the Mariners were nine games out with 19 to play. A year earlier, the Mariners had been 13 back on Aug. 2 and 12.5 back as late as Aug. 20. On Sept. 12, they were still six games in arrears. Even three-year-olds roaming the streets of Sedro Woolley know what happened next.
But in 1996, there was no Randy Johnson to come to the rescue. After spending most of the year on the disabled list, he underwent surgery Aug. 27 to repair a herniated disc. So the chances of a rally appeared bleak. Remarkably, though, the fun was just beginning.
Over the next nine days, the Mariners made up eight games in the standings by winning a club-record 10 in a row. During that streak, which pulled the Mariners within one game of the Rangers for the division lead, Seattle’s opponents did not bat with a lead even once.
Then, without warning, a massive cave-in occurred, burying the season. The Mariners lost six of their final eight and missed the playoffs.
Unlike this year, the 1996 Mariners did not go down easily. In their six losses, those Mariners lost by one run once and two runs three times. Their worst loss: 8-1 at Oakland Sept. 27. During the six, opponents (Athletics and Angels) outscored Seattle by only seven runs, 51-43.
While the 1996 team more or less faded away, the 2014 team is being swallowed whole with nary a burp. We can quantify that.
The Mariners have dropped their last four by scores of 10-1 (Astros), 8-3 (Astros), 14-4 (Blue Jays) and 10-2 (Blue Jays).
In 38 seasons, the Mariners have allowed eight-plus runs in four (or more) consecutive games only eight times. The longest streak is seven games, by the 2000 Mariners from Aug. 13-20 when they got thumped 10-4, 15-4, 9-0, 12-8, 9-8, 10-4 and 12-4.
But measured by team ERA during such an abysmal streak, the current four-gamer is the worst short-term pitching crash in franchise history. In allowing 42 runs, while scoring 10, Mariners pitchers combined for an 11.25 ERA. These are the eight streaks, ranked by worst ERA, in which the Mariners allowed at least eight runs in four or more consecutive games:
|2014||Sept. 20-TBD||4||42||Hou, Tor||11||17||6||11.25|
|2008||May 20-24||5||55||Det, NYY||10||14||1||11.03|
|1994||July 10-17||5||55||Bos, NYY||8||27||4||10.17|
|2006||Sept. 23-26||4||44||CWS, Oak||10||22||3||9.77|
|2009||July 24-27||4||42||Clev, Tor||13||14||3||9.75|
|2000||Aug. 13-20||7||77||Clev, Det||13||35||4||8.80|
|1978||May 20-June 2||4||36||KC, Bal||5||14||0||7.91|
|1994||April 8-11||4||36||Tor, Minn||7||25||0||7.08|
While the pitching is historically dreadful, the offense certainly hasn’t helped. With the Astros and Blue Jays practically scoring touchdowns against the Mariners, Seattle hitters have posted a .223 team batting average (3-for-134), a .172 mark with runners in scoring position (5-for-29) and have left 21 runners stranded.
The Mariners find themselves three games out in the wild card standings with five to play. According to the math, they’re still alive. Realistically, the ice cream truck has disappeared from view.