BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 05/19/2015

Mariners: Major Mendozas with runners on base

The Mariners (17-20) have capable pitching, but if they don’t improve their hitting with runners in scoring position, they will miss the postseason for the 14th consecutive season.

Dustin Ackley, off to his traditional slow start, is batting .048 with runners in scoring position. / Wiki Commons

To hear Lloyd McClendon talk about it, the Mariners emerged from their nine-game home stand with an array of positives: a 6-3 record despite a Felix Hernandez loss Saturday, his first of the year; AL Player of the Week Brad Miller’s home run spree (five in his past four games); and James Paxton’s 20-inning scoreless streak, giving him consecutive victories following a horrendous start (5.08 ERA as late as May 5).

“That’s the one thing that’s got lost in all this,” McClendon told reporters Sunday. “We haven’t played well to this point. But it seems like when we lose, the world is coming to an end. But the fact is, we were 6-3 on this home stand. That’s a pretty good home stand and it’s certainly something to build on. Hopefully, we’ll take that momentum on the road with us.”

Obscured, and rendered moot, by Paxton’s splendid pitching and another Miller home run in Sunday’s 5-0 series-ender against the Boston Red Sox was the fact that the Mariners once again flailed and failed when presented with scoring opportunities.

They finished 1-for-7 with RISP and now rank 27th among 30 MLB teams in that category. Among American League clubs, the Mariners rank 13th, ahead of only bottom feeders Texas and Boston.

When runners are primed to score, the Mariners are batting .221. The league average is .263. In the four seasons (out of 38) that Seattle reached the postseason, it hit .284 (1995), .276 (1997), .279 (2000), and .295 (2001) with runners poised to plate.

Last year, McClendon’s first, the Mariners took their playoff chase to the final day of the regular season, batting .262 with RISP, 41 points higher than this season. Without newcomer Nelson Cruz, hitting .341 with 16 RBIs with RISP, the Mariners this season are little more than Mendoza hitters when confronted with scoring chances.

In 38+ years, the Mariners have finished 10 seasons with 95 or more defeats, most recently in 2011 when, under Eric Wedge, they went 67-95. Four times, the Mariners lost more than 100, most recently 2010 when they stumbled home 61-101 under Don Wakamatsu.

In none of those 10 95-plus loss seasons did the Mariners finish with an RISP batting average lower than the one they have now — .221. This is brutal and, if it continues, will keep the Mariners from their first postseason appearance since 2001:

Year Manager Rec. BA/RISP Skinny
2015 Lloyd McClendon 17-20 .221 Nadir: Ackley 1-for-23, .043 BA
2011 Eric Wedge 67-95 .222 14th in BA, OBP, Slug and OPS
2010 Don Wakamatu 61-101 .226 Mike Sweeney .313 BA, .905 OPS
1983 Rene Lachemann 60-102 .229 Manager fired at mid-season
1978 Darrell Johnson 56-104 .237 RISP 15 points better than 2015
1977 Darrell Johnson 64-98 .248 M’s 27 points higher than ’15
2004 Bob Melvin 63-99 .268 Ichiro .372 BA, .913 OPS with RISP
2008 John McLaren 61-101 .268 Raul Ibanez had 82 RBIs with RIP
1986 Chuck Cottier 67-95 .264 Danny Tartabull .318 BA, 1.013 OPS
1992 Bill Plummer 64-98 .268 Ken Griffey Jr. .333 BA, 1.048 OPS
1979 Darrell Johnson 67-95 .272 Bruce Bochte .308 BA, 83 RBIs

It’s almost impossible to conjure a scenario in which a team with Hernandez and Cruz finishes with 95+ losses, particularly given McClendon’s persistent belief in his “golden age” club, plus the starting pitching that emerging behind Hernandez.

J.A. Happ is 3-1, 2.98 and has pitched into the seventh inning in five of seven starts. Taijuan Walker is 1-4, 7.22, but has allowed only five earned runs over his last two. And Roenis Elias has permitted three earned runs in his past 13.1 innings.

But hitting, or lack of, has been a season-long issue, especially with runners in scoring position.

As the quarter pole nears, the Mariners are 13th in the AL in runs scored, 12th in hits, 11th in batting average and 14th in on-base percentage. Robinson Cano is a major reason behind those deflated numbers. A career .308 hitter, Cano is batting .253 with a .647 OPS and ranks fourth in the league in outs made. Miller has out-homered him 5-1.

With runners in scoring position, Cano is a sub-Mendoza .194 with one extra base hit and 10 whiffs.

Logan Morrison is 3-for-27 (.111) and Dustin Ackley 1-for-23, a .048 batting average.

Imagine where the Mariners would be without Cruz, leading the AL in offensive WAR (2.3), slugging percentage (.694), OPS (1.089), total bases (100), home runs (15), extra-base hits (20) and RBIs (30).

The Mariners Tuesday enter a nine-game road trip through Baltimore, Toronto and Tampa Bay at 17-20 and 7.5 games behind Houston in the AL West.  Unless the Mariners significantly improve their hitting, no amount of effective pitching will get them to the postseason, making RISP the key stat to watch throughout the trip, and beyond.


  • jafabian

    Ackley’s performance on Sunday was very telling. In three at-bats he saw 9 pitches. Right after him in the order is Zunino who in the same amount of ABs saw twice as many pitches. Bloomquist saw six in one pinch hitting appearance. Dustin’s obviously pressing at this point and that’s not good at this level. The focus should be getting on base and making contact when the opportunity presents itself. Sending him to Tacoma won’t do him any good. Might have to go where all struggling M’s seem to go: Kansas City.