Whoa! I was taken aback by the harsh way I wrote that headline. But after yet another botched attempt at a gettable sweep, I can’t help but think the fact that the Mariners have yet to sweep a series in 2013 is only attributed to bad luck. Maybe it’s that they just have inferior talent, but even the Astros and Marlins completed sweeps recently, and they both are significantly less talented teams.
Joe Saunders couldn’t finish off the Blue Jays. Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
No, there’s definitely something else at play here. As a whole, this team is mentally incapable of playing winning baseball against the same opponent three times in a row. The breakdowns in series where the M’s could finish or grab sweeps tend to vary, which shows that it’s not all a physical, personal problem.
Initially, the Mariners struggled to string together victories because of inconsistent starting pitching. In the season’s opening series, the Mariners won the first two games over Oakland behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. However, consecutive poor outings from Joe Saunders and Brandon Maurer derailed their momentum. The M’s tailspun to 8-15 after that series, but bounced back by taking three of four against the Angels. In that series, Felix, Iwakuma and Maurer all pitched exceptionally, but Aaron Harang gave up five runs in the first three innings of game two. In the next two series, both 2-1 wins by the M’s over the Orioles and Blue Jays, but poor starts from Maurer and Saunders cost them sweeps.
Since those series, the Mariners problem finishing sweeps has shifted to their offense and bullpen. Against Oakland on May 10-12, Maurer only gave up three runs, but the A’s scored another off Charlie Furbush and the offense came up short in a 4-3 defeat. The Mariners could have easily swept the Yankees in their next series, as Hisashi Iwakuma and Hector Noesi/long relievers neutralized the New York offense for two wins. However, the Mariners came up short with runners in scoring position in game one and Charlie Furbush coughed up Felix’s lead in the seventh inning.
More recently, the Mariners had great chances to sweep both the White Sox and the Astros. After leading Chicago 2-1, Seattle had Iwakuma on the mound to finish a sweep. Iwakuma pitched brilliantly, but the Mariners didn’t score for him, and lost in extra innings after failing to score for 13 frames. Yesterday, with another sweep at hand, the bats went to sleep for seven innings and failed to support a brilliant start from Jeremy Bonderman. However, Nick Franklin pushed across a run in the eighth inning, and the M’s had a chance for the sweep. Then Tom Wilhelmsen imploded, and that was the end of that.
The Mariners cannot hope to dig out their 9-games under .500 hole without sweeping series. They are too young a team to play consistently well eight or nine series in a row. They have to play well for eight or nine games in a row. But in order to do that, they have to sweep a series or two, and they haven’t proved mentally capable of finishing out three consecutive games.
That could be a problem of youth, it could be a problem of management and a lot of it has to do with luck. But if the Mariners hope to improve on last season’s 75-win mark and save the jobs of Eric Wedge and Jack Zdurencik, they need to get past whatever mental barrier that leaves them sweep-less halfway through June.