The Seattle Mariners continue to struggle in close contests, as the Chicago Cubs take the first of a three-game series at Wrigley Field.
There were many times during the past two seasons, when it was claimed the Mariners could not consistently rely on so much success in close games. And yet they continued to come through, leading the Majors both years in one-run wins. (A combined 77 over the two seasons.)
As a result, the M’s had back-to-back 90-win campaigns and last season ended their 21-year playoff drought. However, it now seems as if their good luck is finally running out.
On Sunday afternoon Seattle failed to come through despite three different late-game leads, ultimately losing 7-6 to the Guardians in 12 innings. Monday night at Wrigley field was another case of falling short in extra innings.
On this occasion, the Cubs won 3-2 in 10 innings, to drop the Mariners to 1-4 in one-run games so far in 2023. For some context, last year Seattle was 34-22 in one-run games.
Of course it’s still extremely early, but the 4-7 record through 11 games doesn’t inspire much confidence. For what it’s worth, the M’s were 6-5 at the same stage in both of the past two seasons.
Stronger roster offset by inconsistent play
In theory, this Mariners roster is better than last year’s. For example, consider they now have two-time Silver Slugger Teoscar Hernandez and a full season of pitching ace Luis Castillo.
In addition, Julio Rodriguez has started off better than last year, while Jarred Kelenic finally seems to have found his bat. However, the key phrase in these past two paragraphs is ‘in theory’.
While the roster looks better on paper, they have been more sloppy and mistake-prone all around. This is the opposite of the sound and almost flawless play from last year.
In addition, injuries have already become an issue for the pitching staff. More specifically, Robbie Ray and Andres Munoz.
With Ray in particular, consider that the rotation did not miss a single start last season through injury. In reality though, that was the outlier and this year is closer to what you’d usually expect. (Perhaps furthering the narrative of their luck finally running out.)
Still on the rotation, this was meant to be the one sure thing to make up for any other roster flaws. They were touted as one of the top five in the AL, and arguably the best in the AL West specifically.
Castillo has another strong outing
However, the reality is the rotation itself has been off to an erratic start. The one exception to this is Castillo, so fans must have been relieved he was taking the mound on Monday night.
In keeping with how this season has gone so far though, the two-time All-Star wasn’t quite his usual dominant self. And yet it’s not as if he was bad, allowing six hits, two walks and two runs in 6.0 innings, while striking out five.
The problem was that Castillo needed to be almost perfect, to pick up his struggling teammates. This does not mean he should get any real blame however – Monday night’s outing would often be enough to inspire a ball club to victory.
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The 30-year-old’s only major jam came in the bottom of the fourth. He started the half inning by walking Ian Happ, who subsequently stole second and then advanced to third after an off-target throw by Tom Murphy.
Chicago then manufactured three consecutive hits, which resulted in two runs and a 2-1 lead. With just one out it could have gotten even worse, but Castillo recovered his composure to finish the half inning unscathed.
After the game, Castillo was asked for his perspective on what happened in the fourth inning. He said:
“It’s the same thing that happens the second half in any game. They were able to connect and bring in two runs, but luckily for me I was able to hold them in the fifth and sixth inning. We didn’t get the win today, but (we’ll) keep on going.”
Kelenic comes through in the clutch
Aside from Castillo, the other main positive was Kelenic, who came in to pinch hit for A.J. Pollock. In the top of the ninth with the Mariners down 2-1, he came through in a moment which could be the making of him.
With the M’s offense struggling most of the night, Kelenic belted a solo home run to right field. Yes it’s still early and in general maybe he’s striking out too much, but a .300 batting average is evidence of his improved offense.
The 23-year-old was asked about his scoring at-bat and play in general at the plate. He said:
“I was just trying to be on time for the heater. I’m feeling comfortable right now. My biggest thing is just trying to be on time on the fastball, stay in the middle part of the field and let the rest kind of take care of itself.”
Despite its recent overuse, the bullpen did its job for three innings after replacing Castillo. They combined to allow just one hit, no walks and most importantly no runs, while striking out three.
Unfortunately for Matt Brash, for the second game running his appearance on the mound contributed to a loss. He only allowed one hit in the 10th, but this turned out to be all that was needed, as Nico Hoerner blasted a walk-off single to right field.
Mariners bats struggle once again
In fairness to Brash, it’s an offense which only managed six hits on the night which is most to blame for the loss. The main example of Seattle’s lack of production/execution came in the top of the 10th.
The Mariners managed to load the bases with just one out and looked well-placed to score at least once. However, the usually reliable duo of Ty France and Eugenio Suarez failed to capitalize on the golden opportunity.
M’s manager Scott Servais was about as close as he will ever get to being critical after the game. He said:
“We didn’t hit a ton going off … we had some chances, including when the bases were loaded, and couldn’t execute to get the runs in. Disappointing to have an extra inning loss again, the third one of the year. All three of them we just haven’t made a play defensively that’s (ultimately) cost us the game.”
The Mariners will now look to tie the series on Tuesday night, with Chris Flexen taking the mound. They will then start Logan Gilbert on Wednesday afternoon for the finale.
Do you see the Mariners’ failures in close games as just a temporary blip? Or are you concerned this will be an ongoing issue as the season progresses? Let us know in the comments section below.