A 5-0 loss to the Yankees cost the Mariners their first home series in more than a month. The question is whether the starting rotation has the ability to sustain a pennant race.
Taking a baseball team’s pennant-race temperature on a daily basis generally is a dubious exercise, sort of like estimating a hummingbird’s speed on a single beat of its wings. Having said that, there is this:
The Yankees look good.
Ah, but you want to know about the Mariners.
They are OK. But they aren’t where they were.
After being shut down 5-0 Wednesday afternoon (box) by Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka, following a 5-1 snub via former New York ace C.C. Sabathia Monday, the Mariners (67-59) lost a home series for the first time in more than a month, and five of their last nine games overall.
A crowd of 41,356 that clubbed its way through gnarlier-than-usual traffic mayhem was rewarded with a lackluster affair, instead of one of the more rousing recent ball festivals. But without 3B Kyle Seager (sore foot) and a limited DH Nelson Cruz (sore back), and with starter Hisashi Iwakuma unable to manage his fastball, the Yankees were in unwavering command.
“It’s the way the game goes,” manager Scott Servais said. “Pitching gets hot for awhile — our bullpen put a streak together — and now the offense has to get going now.
“We haven’t been shut down like that in quite some time.”
All true, but he left out the elephant in the stadium — starting pitching. The Mariners are desperately trying to stay afloat ahead of the Sept. 1 roster expansion, when they can at least plug in relievers to stanch the back-end bleeding.
The headache is getting the starters to finish at least the sixth inning.
Iwakuma did that, giving up only three runs despite baserunners every inning. But when his countryman and former Japan teammate Tanaka — the match-up was MLB’s 13th between Japanese starters — was firing off splitters, sliders and curves that filled the basement of the strike zone, being good wasn’t good enough.
“Kuma was not on, but give him credit — he figured out a way to manage through it,” Servais said. “You look up and it’s 3-0 and we still have a chance.”
But failing in an Iwakuma start compounds the current stress because the Mariners simply have no idea what they are going to get from young starters Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, as well as the fifth starter, whose identity is often publicly disclosed between, “Oh say,” and “can you see.”
After a short demotion to AAA Tacoma, Walker returned to the majors Tuesday and lost. He wasn’t terrible, just not good enough. In 14 starts since May 1, Walker is 2-8 with a 5.09 ERA with 19 homers in 14 games.
Paxton is assumed to be the starter Thursday when a seven-game road trip commences in Chicago, but he hasn’t pitched in a game since taking a comebacker to his pitching elbow Aug. 7.
So the question arose: Hey, Scott, need another veteran pitcher before the close of the waiver trade period Aug. 30?
“How you gonna do that?” Servais said, chuckling a bit. “It’s a tremendous idea. And it is possible. Talk to my bosses about that. It’s hard this time of year.”
Hard, and expensive regarding the cost in prospects. Servais tried to downplay the emergency:
“Starting pitching-wise, we get Pax back, Kuma’s been solid, we get Walker back in there and Felix (Hernandez) is going right.”
Well, at least he has identified them properly. The fifth guy in the rotation? He might be working the bar at Edgar’s Cantina.
As for the Yankees, they won a third consecutive series for the first time this season and are hot behind the Mariners in the wild card chase at 65-61, winning nine of their past 14. Once New York unloaded the burdensome Alex Rodriguez, things became better.
It’s hard to see what similar moves, addition or subtraction, the Mariners can make, given Servais’s skepticism about trading for a stretch-drive studhoss.
But, hey, after missing the playoffs for a major-league-worst 14 years, what’s one more?
After the fifth, Iwakuma had pitched 162 innings this season, triggering a contractual threshold that guaranteed his contract for 2017, and a $14 million salary. But he was in no mood to celebrate. “I’m not thinking about it,” he said through an interpreter. “August is an important time of the year. We need to make a run” . . . A foul ball Tuesday left Seager’s foot too sore to play, but Servais thought he would be ready for Thursday’s start to the road trip . . . Cruz, who was pinch-hit for in the eighth after going 0-for-3, said his back bothered him Tuesday and became worse Wednesday. But apparently trainers worked on an adjustment to his pelvis. “It feels better — they put it back in place,” he said after the game. “With Seager out, I tried to push it, which wasn’t a smart thing to do. I just want to be there.” . . . . The Yankees are 16-4 in Seattle since May 2011 and are 23-10 since the start of the 2009 season.
In the four-game series in Chicago against the White Sox that begins at 5:10 p.m. Thursday, Paxton (4-5, 3.53 ERA) is the likely, but unofficial, starter against RHP Anthony Ranaudo (1-1, 9.42). The Mariners move on Monday to Texas for three.