As the notion of a “low bottom” for this Mariners season continues to change (and go down) day by day, the big guessing game on Monday was who would fly to Oakland for the start of a road trip.
Or, more precisely, who wouldn’t.
The debacle of a five-game series against the Angels, in which the combination of Mike Trout’s superhumanity and the Mariners’ helpless offense combined for four demoralizing losses, cried out for a scapegoat. I’ve been around enough cratering baseball teams in my day to know the telltale signs of an impending cleanup.
But the only casualties turned out to be 39-year-old relief pitcher Sergio Romo and veteran left-hander Roenis Elias, both slated for assignment. Not quite the bloodshed many fans were clamoring for following a double loss on Saturday to the Angels and the latest in a seemingly endless shutout streak on Sunday.
The truth is, this Mariners team’s problems can’t be blamed on one person, whose removal will magically solve what’s ailing them. There are many fingerprints on this moribund work.
It is, of course, long-standing baseball orthodoxy that the manager is the first to take the fall (because, as the old saying goes, you can’t fire 25 players. Or, to modernize, you cannot fire 26 players). The Phillies went that route on June 3 when they knocked out Joe Girardi with the team mired at 22-29. It had exactly the galvanizing effect it wanted: the Phillies are 14-3 under interim manager Rob Thomson, a former bench coach, and back in the thick of the wildcard race. Four days later, the Angels knocked out Joe Maddon amid a 12-game losing streak, which reached 14 games under replacement Phil Nevin. The Angels are 6-7 under Nevin, with 67% of those wins in the series just ended in Seattle.
Girardi and Maddon each have a World Series title on their managerial resumes. The Mariners haven’t had a manager with even a playoff spot in Seattle since Lou Piniella in 2001, there are seven captains, not counting interims. Scott Servais, in his seventh season, was hailed last year when he guided an overperforming team to 90 wins, 14 games above their projected win total with their minus-51 point differential.
Servais finished second to Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash for American League Manager of the Year and earned a contract extension Sept. 1. unreasonable expectation that made the ensuing meltdown that much more frustrating.
Now the Mariners are flailing, 10 games under .500 with yet another non-playoff season staring them in the face. Did Servais suddenly become mute? I do not think so. Of course, there are a number of decisions you can guess about when it comes to rolling out the lineup, using throwing and, especially this weekend, whether or not to keep throwing at Trout in the face of mounting evidence that they were unable to stop him.
As longtime minor league manager Rocky Bridges once said, “There are three things the average man thinks he can do better than anyone else. Build a fire, run a hotel and manage a baseball team.
But in many cases, Servais chooses between unattractive options, a sort of Hobson pick (not named after former Red Sox slugger Butch Hobson, although the Mariners can use his bat) where he doesn’t There are often no right answers. This is what happens when your roster is filled with struggling players who either perform well below their jobs or don’t have representative jobs yet. However if he does not manage to make the players perform, and soon, Servais could well pay for his job. It’s just baseball. Many people were refreshing Twitter on Monday to see if the manager would survive.
President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto, like Servais, is in his seventh year at Seattle (and the fourth year of the rebuild, which bought extra time to produce a playoff team). He bears responsibility for the roster, which looked much better on paper in March. Nobody knew at the time that Robbie Ray wouldn’t approach his Cy Young form before two starts, or that the two big offensive additions, Jesse Winker and Adam Frazier, would suffer massive cuts, or that Jarred Kelenic would be tormented by the same offensive issues he had as a rookie, or that Mitch Haniger would miss two months with an ankle injury. Beyond that, there are depth issues that have plagued the Mariners all season, with little answered in the minor leagues despite their farm system’s sparkling standings.
The lineup the Mariners throw out nearly every day is as thin as last year. They’ve already been shut out 10 times in 68 games, or about once every two series. The bullpen has seen its expected regression, and the Mariners aren’t pulling off close games like they did last year. No team leaves more men on base than they do, and only two teams are less successful in getting them home from third place with fewer than two outs. It’s getting harder and harder to watch this team, as it’s currently put together, and see the seeds of a push that will get them back in the running.
The burning question is how crippled Dipoto was in his quest for free agents this offseason, and how much of their inability to sign players such as Trevor Story and Marcus Semien was simply an inability to coax them into Seattle. – a growing problem as losing seasons and negative word-of-mouth grow.
Either way, it’s fair to ask the same question that has permeated this organization for two decades: how intense is the commitment to winning within the ownership group? Where is the burning desire to end the drought that continues to be a dark stain on the organization? That’s not reflected in a payroll that ranks in the bottom third of the league. And it could be tested even more in the coming weeks.
This season would (and still could, with just under 100 games to go) have had a much different tenor, of course, had the players played up to their expectations. Too few did, and the general unease led to a familiar attitude of anger and frustration among the fan base; it is completely justified considering the 20 years of work of this organization.
Just when it looked like the Mariners were poised to turn the season around, having won four straight series after the last road trip, they suffered a 3-8 homestand that once again rocked them.
No heads, apparently, rolled on Monday, outside of those two relievers. But the Mariners’ headaches are only getting worse.