The Mariners were beaten Sunday nearly before the anthem finished. But for a club that leads MLB in roster turnover, it didn’t really matter. The season is about “little victories.”
Entering the weekend, the Mariners were said by the gambling site BetOnline.ag to have odds of 1,000-to-1 to win the 2019 World Series. While that will surprise no one who watched this season — particularly the 25,816 who Sunday observed the sheet-soiling first inning of a 7-4 loss (box) to the Oakland A’s at T-ball Park — the noteworthy aspect is that those odds were better than five other MLB teams.
Judged unworthy of wager and the off the board were the American League’s Orioles, Tigers, Royals and Blue Jays, and the National League’s Marlins.
That suggests that bad baseball in the AL has a breadth and depth that is ocean-like. After losing two of three to the A’s (50-41) to fall to 39-55 at the annual break for the All-Star Game, by now the Mariners also are off the odds board and adrift, no shore visible.
All of this dreariness was not only predictable, it was, as you know, by design.
So how does thousand-to-one feel to a manager four years into his first MLB managing job?
“I quit going going to the donut shop on weekends,” said Scott Servais with a sardonic grin before the game. He was speaking in manager-code for being recognized in public spaces by fans who are certain they know his job better than he does.
He is perhaps consoled by the fact that, entering the season, he had an MLB win percentage of .521, which is better than Connie Mack, Casey Stengel and Frank Robinson, to name three Hall of Fame managers.
But since the customers know best, best to avoid the customers.
More likely, he is consoled by the fact that the franchise’s step-back plan is, in his view, worth it to date. Of course, he has little choice but to cheer-lead it; anything less, and much of the remaining air is squeezed from the already wrinkled balloon.
“The average fan here at T-Mobile Park sees the won-loss record and doesn’t see that,” he said of the years-long re-stocking of inventory. “I’m fortunate enough to see what’s going on, and I’ve been in other organizations. We’re very healthy with the prospects coming on. They’re being taught what we value as an organization, things that will help us down the road.
“The Mariners are very, very healthy as an organization right now.”
By one near-term measure — prospects Jerred Kelenic, Evan White and Jason Dunn were in the MLB Futures Game Sunday in Cleveland — he has a point. And various scouting services rank the previously fallow farm system as of average fertility this year.
But Servais also is right on another point: Progress is barely visible at the job site where he works. Nowhere in baseball is the roster blender set to 11 as it is in Seattle.
When RHP Matt Wisler made his Mariners debut in the eighth inning Sunday, he was the 35th pitcher used this season — most in MLB history prior to the All-Star break, a custom begun in 1933. He was also the 53rd Mariners player, another pre-break MLB record created earlier when the club passed the mark of 50 by the 2018 Angels and 2014 Rangers.
Since 2017, the Mariners have gone through 80 pitchers, an MLB high and seven more than runner-up Toronto. Over the past three seasons combined, the Mariners have used 121 players, one more than Toronto for most in MLB.
What has all this churn wrought?
Sunday, relative newcomer RHP Matt Carasiti was the “opener” for Wade LeBlanc. After four good openers, Carasiti gave up three runs before the first out. In two-thirds of an inning, he surrendered four hits, a walk and five runs, one unearned because of a brutal error by LF Dylan Moore when he over-ran a ground single at his feet and let the ball roll to the wall.
Thanks to relief pitching and defense, the game was over nearly at ” . . . dawn’s early light.”
Despite the roster churn, the two magnum vulnerabilities obvious in spring training remain so, as the Mariners lost for the eighth time in the final 10 games before the break. Since this year is an all-but-declared extended spring training at full retail price, the outcomes can’t be surprising.
But it also is annoying for some Mariners fans, maybe even Servais.
“I’ve had more sit-down-get-to-know-you meetings than I’ve ever had,” he said of the parade of newbies general manager Jerry Dipoto has sent through his office. “A lot of turnover with new players. It takes awhile to build relationships and trust. You gotta be patient, ask a lot of questions — who’s married, (do you) have kids and dogs, where they’re from — all the stuff you do to build relationships.
“Had to do it a lot.”
But Servais was quick to deflect any notion of complaint.
I like doing it,” he said. “I take little victories each day. We may not win the game, but we’re able to coach up and teach. That’s what I love doing. As far as our (long-term) process, I feel great about it.
“I still would like to win a few more games.”
As the July 31 trade deadline approaches, that seems increasingly unlikely. Two over-30 veterans who are not in the long-term picture, still-productive RHP Mike Leake and 2B Dee Gordon, are seen as likely to be dealt for prospects.
There’s also the club’s nearly institutionalized bad health fortunes. Nominal closer Hunter Strickland has missed all season, and veterans Kyle Seager and Mitch Haniger missed big chunks. On the same day (Friday), the Mariners put on the 10-day injured list two of their recently more reliable relievers, Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla.
Yet not all this season is bleakness.
Servais mentioned the progress of youth — SS J.R. Crawford, CF Mallex Smith, and the catching tandem of Omar Narvaez and Tom Murphy. There’s All-Star DH Daniel Vogelbach, and two long-term starting pitchers in Marco Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi.
Most of the rest? Guys. Just guys. Many guys.
“I understood what we were going to get into,” Servais said of the decision in October to go with extended spring training. “There would be some tough stretches.
“I think we’ve played pretty decent baseball the last 20-30 games.”
In fact, over the past 30, they are 14-16. Whoever “they” might be at a given moment.
“They” are not enough to awaken a Vegas bookie in the middle of the night, and “they” will join a Seattle legion who will have missed the playoffs 18 years in a row, during which the raggedy-ass A’s have made it seven times.
Some of “them” may not even be on the team after the All-Star break. For their replacements, Servais has a set of questions about wives, kids and dogs. Little victories.