BY Art Thiel 07:16PM 06/07/2015

Thiel: Worst long homestand in Mariners’ history

A 3-1 loss Sunday to Tampa made for a 2-9 homestand, worst in club history. Trades, tirades, shakeups — nothing is working, including an epic blunder Sunday by Nelson Cruz on the basepaths.

During the homestand, Lloyd McClendon thought the old tantrum trick might work. It didn’t. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest file

To review:

The Mariners followed a 6-3 homestand with a 6-3 road trip to get to .500 May 27 for the first time since April 12 (3-3), certainly a sign that a seasonal turning point was upon them as an 11-game homestand dawned. And that was true.

They turned, all right: The 2-9 record, completed Sunday with a 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay (box score), was the worst homestand of 10 or more games in the club’s 38-year-plus history.

Except for light from 1995-2002, despair has hung like fog upon this franchise. The current feat of ineptitude, with a $120 million payroll and expectations of contention, is staggering — particularly in view of good starting pitching.

“You can’t explain it,” said Nelson Cruz. “It’s weird.”

Which, ironically, is what 27,906 at Safeco and a TV audience said about Cruz in the fourth inning when he produced the daily epic-fail metaphor that keeps this blunder boat afloat.

Seth Smith’s double and Cruz’s single put runners on the corners with no outs and Kyle Seager up. If there was a moment to get into the grill of formidable Tampa starter Chris Archer and his slider from hell, this was it.

But Seager struck out. So did newcomer Mark Trumbo. Then, with Logan Morrison up, Cruz inexplicably broke for second.

Was it a hit-and-run? Was it a Seahawks-style read-option? Was it a desperate Little League play to draw a throw and a rundown that would allow Smith home before the out? Did manager Lloyd McClendon lose his mind?

McClendon wasn’t taking the bullet for this one.

“If my general manager thought I put that play on,” he said indignantly, “I should be fired.

“Nellie thought he saw something that wasn’t there.”

Great. If rally-killing play wasn’t enough, now the Mariners think they see ghosts.

What it was, according to Cruz, was a misread of a base-running signal.

“I got mixed up about the (steal) signs,” he said. “I thought it was to fake (a steal). I went, and then stopped. I was trying to make something happen.”

He almost did. In the rundown, Smith broke for home and nearly scored before the third-out tag. But he didn’t.

Cruz’s brainlock was the equal of one earlier in the homestand, when Cano killed another rally by allowing himself to be picked off first base when he was staring into the outfield as he wandered off the bag. These are Little League mistakes being made by guys who combined for $40 million of the payroll this season.

Then there was Felix Hernandez, who lost his focus against the Yankees because of a muddy mound after the Safeco roof apparently strained a hammy before finally doing its job to shelter from the storm.

Also in this stand, a desperate McClendon tried the old ejection trick. He complained about the strike zone to not just the home-plate arbiter, but ran to all four umps to finger-waggle and berate. He completed what was believed to be the first harangue-cycle in club history.

Didn’t work either. Nor did lineup changes, including putting Morrison in the leadoff spot.

They even tried a trade. GM Jack Zduriencik dumped OF Justin Ruggiano, the one bench player who had a smidgen of upside, and acquired Trumbo, yet another big-fly / big-whiff guy, of which the Mariners have battalions. Ruggiano was hitting .214/.321/.357. Trumbo has two singles in 16 at-bats after an 0-for-4 Sunday, reaching only on an error.

In those 11 games, the Mariners scored 21 runs, never more than three in any one. The two wins were by 2-1 scores. Twice they lost to starting pitchers they traded away — Michael Pineda of the Yankees June 1 and three days later, Erasmo Ramirez of Rays.

McClendon even caved on his stubbornness around closer Fernando Rodney. It worked Saturday night, when the Mariners won with a ninth inning from young Carson Smith. But McClendon said it was temporary, and likely closer-by-committee until they get Rodney, in McClendon’s words, “cleaned up.”

Huh? Has this been a hygiene issue? Is it something to be fixed with Spackle and Bondo?

Apparently, it has something to do with Rodney’s pitching mechanics. Whatever, he wasn’t part of yesterday’s little despair. Nor was another continuing puzzle, Cano, who was rested Sunday to give him two days off in a row.

Trades, tirades, shakeups — nothing has worked. Now, after 20 games in a row, they will try a day off.

“Players make mistakes,” McClendon said.  When you’re not playing well, it’s all hyped up. It’s blown out of proportion. Right now we’re snake-bitten.”

My guess is it’s more like a python’s remorseless squeeze. There’s time to wiggle out, but at 25-32 in a very competitive division, breath is hard to come by when great players play poorly and regular guys are irregular.

Noteworthy

The Mariners’ previous worst homestand of 10-plus games was in their expansion year, Sept. 6-14, 1977 (2-8 in 10 games). They also went 3-8 in July 1983 and July 1992 . . . Squandered again was another sterling outing from a starter. Rookie Mike Momtgomery, in his second big-league start and first against his old team, pitched seven innings with five hits, one walk and three strikeouts . . . Seattle starters have a 1.88 ERA over the past six starts . . . Logan Morrison has a career-best 14-game hitting streak . . . Rays starter Archer has 23 strikeouts in 15 innings against the Mariners in two starts, 11 Sunday.

Next

An eight-game road trip starts in Cleveland Tuesday when Roenis Elias (2-3, 2.94 ERA) faces Indians’ ace Corey Kluber (3-6, 3.61). After three in Ohio, they have three in Houston and two interleague games in San Francisco.


YourThoughts

  • RadioGuy

    In some ways this all reminds me of 2010, when the Mariners were coming off a winning season and expectations were high among a lot of people, but the team couldn’t follow up. One big difference is that while 2009 was smoke-and-mirrors stuff with lots of overachievement and good timing, last year appeared to be more legitimate than lucky.

    You have to wonder what was going on in Nelson Cruz’ mind in the fourth but I’m inclined to shake my head and live with it because he’s hitting .326, still leads the AL in homers with 18 and it’s very safe to say Seattle wouldn’t even have won 25 of 57 games without him. I was very dubious when he was signed but Cruz has not been the problem.

    There are still four months left in the season, plenty of time to turn things around, but we’re seeing the kinds of things more common to circle-the-drain teams than winning ones and this year’s pitching staff isn’t as good as last year’s at overcoming adversity.

    • art thiel

      Cruz brain-locked. It’s a one-off. But his timing with everyone else locking up is astonishing.

    • jafabian

      The M’s are 85 games under .500 under Jack Z’s watch and have yet to make the playoffs. That’s very telling to me.

      • art thiel

        Can’t argue that.

  • Sam Base

    The weird part is that you could see this dreadful homestand coming. OK, even I didn’t think it would be 2-9, figuring something more like 4-7. It happens all the time (I’m speaking of previous seasons as well). The M’s come off a good road trip and then trip all over themselves at home. It’s become a tradition. Cruz is right. It is weird. Straight out of the Twilight Zone, which had one of the worst baseball teams of all time, the Hoboken Zephyrs.

    • art thiel

      Not sure I see a home/road pattern. I just a team that’s RISP-averse.

  • Lodowick

    Houston, this is Spackle and Bondo. We now have separation. Thruster rockets have disengaged. Boosters have disengaged. Spackle and Bondo have disengaged. Falling back toward earth. Splashdown expected later this month. Roger. Over and out.

    • art thiel

      ‘Chutes deployed, Spackle and Bondo? Over . . .

      • Lodowick

        Brilliant Art-icle. I think you’re moving beyond Jim Murray at this point.

  • inplaylose

    Sure we are nearing the end of the Jack Z. era, aren’t we? In the bigger picture, nothing he has done has worked. The good ideas haven’t worked, the bad ideas haven’t worked. They can’t win for losing. His reign of error has been a combination of bad luck, bad timing, and flat-out bad decisions. Watching this team go through the motions is absolutely depressing. What a waste this season is. I’d look forward to the trade deadline, but I’m not sure there is anyone other than Felix or Cruz which another team would actually want.

    • art thiel

      This team won 12 of 18 prior to the homestand. They are not incompetent. Too many hitters are failing at the same time. That can even out..

  • jafabian

    Up until the Trumbo deal the players slowly got themselves up to .500, then things spiraled. I’m wondering what the players thought of it? What kind of message did Jack send? They were 6-3 going into this homestand, then it went down the toilet. Did Jack send the wrong message? I think he did. It was a knee-jerk, panicked move for a team that knew it could do better and was trying to do something about it. The bullpen that was such a strength last season has been blown up, either by Jack or by the players themselves. I don’t have as much of an issue with Lloyd and the coaches as I do the player personnel moves.

    • Lodowick

      Hard not to agree. It’s the team. This just in. News at 11. It’s the personnel. I woke up at 4 a.m. the other day thinking about Moneyball and the Billy Beane story that was the film. That A’s team was built on pitching, like the M’s. But the position players were chosen with a completely different mindset and that team won 19 straight games. Is that right? It’s the little things. Like taking pitches and getting on base. Fouling off balls into you get your pitch. Sacrificing. Smart but aggressive baserunning.

  • 1coolguy

    Are JZ and Lincoln still there? Yes? Oh well, I’ll save my money until after they leave.

    • art thiel

      Attendance was up, No. 6 in the AL. That may be changing.

  • Rj Smith

    And Cy Archer dominated the M’s once again. Has he even walked a M’s hitter to go with those 23 K’s? The M’s not only strike out a ton, I guarantee they swing & miss far more than anybody else. More outstanding baserunning also. I love how Seager struck out & failed to drive Smith in with just a flyball. Seager gets the benefit of the doubt for some reason, but he regularly fails in the clutch also. He is an extremely streaky hitter & not very consistent. Since the big game at Tampa 2 weeks ago, has he driven in a run? Just as I had suspected, the M’s 1 game win streak came to a crash & burn ending & Archer, not surprisingly was totally on his game, as is every single ace every single time against the M’s. Let’s see if on this road trip they can average 2 runs per game. Sounds tough, so probably not. Sigh.

    • RadioGuy

      It’s not just Seager with this team. Cruz is the only starter hitting above .275 and the entire team is batting .237 with a .297 on-base percentage, both worst in the AL. It takes more than one guy to do that.

      Besides, I can remember when Edgar Martinez would come up in the ninth (with runners on base and the M’s trailing) and strike out. It even got to the point later in his career where I EXPECTED him to whiff in those situations and Edgar was the embodiment of what I call a “professional hitter.” That’s baseball, where batters are considered great when they only fail to get on base six out of ten trips to the plate.

  • Dan Engel

    I think I’ve seen enough to tell me that this club is exactly what their record shows. A sub .500 team that is going to struggle to keep from finishing last in the AL. Bone-headed base running, not knowing how many outs there on defense (the entire team did that yesterday), and zero fundamental hitting with runners in scoring position. It’s like I’m watching my Little League team. Jack and Lloyd are pulling out all the stops and nothing is working. It’s not mystical, it’s not a math problem. The players just aren’t very good.

    • art thiel

      With this pitching, the Mariners aren’t a sub.-.500 team. One timely extra hit in four games, and the Mariners are 6-5. That’s not asking MLB-average guys to do anything beyond their skillsets.

      • Dan Engel

        Fair enough, but they didn’t do that and they went 2-9. I guess you have to ask what’s the goal. If it’s making the playoffs, they probably have to go 65-30 the rest of the way. I haven’t seen the talent there to pick up the pitching enough to support a run like that.

  • Jamo57

    It’s the first week of June. In other words, countdown to Hawks training camp.

    Same as it ever was.

    • art thiel

      Storm started Friday, too.

  • notaboomer

    “If my general manager thought I put that play on,” he said indignantly, “I should be fired.

    i say whomever decided trumbo for dh over jesus montero should be fired. the dood is putting up good numbers at tacoma so why not give him 10 games to see if he can get it done in majors? and don’t give me that line about scouts not liking his approach.

    • art thiel

      Trumbo is supposed to be an every-day LF. Morrison is supposed to be an every-day 1B. Cruz was supposed to be an every-day DH. But now that he’s played himself into an every-day RF, there is a vacancy at DH, and having he worst homestand in club history should be impetus for change.

  • Macfunk

    Jeez Art . . . I log in hoping to find a column on something important, like Bellevue High School football. And you’re writing about the Mariners? Really? :)

    • art thiel

      Good point. Who knew that Bellevue HS was recruiting and paying parents/kids under the table? We all stand shocked.

      • RadioGuy

        And we’ll all be even more shocked if we ever conclude that what goes on at Bellevue is more common everywhere than many would be comfortable to admit. It’s happened in the rural county I live in now even though there are no 4A or 3A schools here.

        There’s a lot of money and/or status tied in with all these unpaid teenaged athletes, who are nothing more than pawns on the adult chessboard.

  • poulsbogary

    This didn’t seem like a team that would generate a worst “such and such” in team history label. But there it is in the column headline.

  • Tman

    Halfway through this article I thought, “Only 3 bellylaugh’s..Is Art a little off his game?”
    Then “a python’s remorseless squeeze” made it 6 guffaws in row. Thanks again for packing so much fun into your always great writing..