The Mariners are in a rough 4-7 stretch that threatens to derail their playoff run, and to exactly no one’s surprise, the offense is largely to blame.
Calling the lineup’s recent performance lethargic would be kind. With the exception of Tuesday’s 13-2 steamroll of the Angels, the high output has been a whopping four runs…which the team has accomplished all of twice in ten opportunities. Their aggregate score in those games is 17, which at less than two runs per contest would not win many games for a team fielding a rotation of five of the best starters of all time, let alone one that is struggling to recover from the recent loss of Roenis Elias.
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Digging a little deeper, though, makes it clear that the run shortage is not a team-wide issue: a lack of right-handed production, despite Jack Zduriencik’s Deadline dealing, still plagues the club.
There is no need to look further than last night’s box score: against lefty Wade LeBlanc, a borderline major league starter, Lloyd McClendon sent out four right-handed bats (Austin Jackson, Chris Denorfia, Mike Zunino, and Chris Taylor) and switch-hitter Kendrys Morales. Those five combined to go a dismal 3 for 16 (.188 AVG), and it took a Felix Hernandez gem and rare breakdown from the L.A.’s bullpen for Seattle to find themselves on the winning side of a 3-1 scoreline in a game that was scoreless through eight.
Go back another day against a starter of legitimate quality in C.J. Wilson, and the combined efforts of Jackson, Morales, Justin Smoak (S), Denorfia, Taylor, and Jesus Sucre were a lone hit and a walk in 17 at-bats. The end result for the team was getting shut out.
The biggest culprits have been the newest additions to the lineup…
While excitement over the Jackson and Denorfia (and to a lesser extent Morales) acquisitions were prevalent, brief spurts of competence have been overshadowed by longer stretches of ineptitude. Jackson is hitting right at the Mendoza line this month, accumulating more strikeouts than hits from the leadoff spot. Less was expected from Denorfia, and less has been delivered in abundance: the former Padre cannot even get on the field consistently, hitting .174 (but just slightly worse than Morales) and has appeared in just six games in September.
What makes this worse for the team, though, is that the right-handed slumps, like a disease, have been transmitted to the young players. Chris Taylor, after a start that seemed to foreshadow greatness, has relinquished the starting shortstop role back to Brad Miller, who himself is always, even given his near-.300 last two months, on the precipice of a 0-20 dry spell. Mike Zunino, more known for his power and defense than average, has gone yard just three times since then end of July. Going through the entire roster, it is impossible to find a single right-hander who instills even a smidgeon of fear in the opposition.
This dreadful run comes directly in the face of positive stretches from lefties Miller, Robinson Cano, and Logan Morrison among others. But even great hitting, when it comes from just on side of the plate, will almost never get the job done in this era of deep rotations, bullpen micromanagement, and LOOGYs.
Sep 12, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcherDavid Price
(14) pitches in the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Not all of the blame lies with the GM here, as the extent of Jackson’s disappointing form was unforeseen by most. But it was more than reasonable to question whether two minor deals for Denorfia and Kendrys would solve anything, and a monster last ten days from either hitter notwithstanding, those questions have been validated.
The Mariners could easily face Oakland or Detroit in a one-game Wild Card playoff (if they can pull it together), where southpaws Jon Lester or David Price could easily await them. If they survive that hurdle, a matchup against the Angels where the aforementioned Wilson and Hector Santiago would get two of the five games in an ALDS series would be unfavorable to say the least. And if their undoing comes either at or before that point, we can probably point to a single greatest factor: right-handed hitting.