Mariners offense sputters in a wasted week

Denis Poroy

7 starts, four runs allowed. 3-4 record.

Yesterday was another verse, same as the first. And second. And third.

One earned run from Felix, 1-0 loss in the 9th. Zero runs over five innings from Erasmo Ramirez, Danny Farquhar implosion and 4-3 loss. Dominance from Hisashi Iwakuma, Chris Young, and Roenis Elias, allowing one earned run between all three starts. Three straight wins. Then an unfortunate Felix wild pitch on Thursday's loss, and six more scoreless from Erasmo Ramirez before more failures.

Three starts with zero earned runs allowed, and four with one. A historic week for the Mariners pitching staff, and yet...3-4.  It's not that the Mariners didn't hit over this stretch, collectively. Their week-long span of offense was good for an 83 wRC+. Their year-to-date total is 84. They've done pretty much exactly what they've done all year, but this time, the distribution of that offense ended in waste.  The Mariners haven't given themselves many chances to score, and when they have, they've mostly failed in these losses. I thought this might happen, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating.

This offense has, in many ways, been shocking that it hasn't been even worse when you consider the lineups Lloyd McClendon continues to trot out. Still, the Mariners added Robinson Cano to their lineup and have dropped their yearly wRC+ from 92 in 2013 to 84 in 2014.  In many ways, the offense is the worst it's been since 2011, the year when Dustin Ackley was the best hitter on the team. The year when Ackley and Justin Smoak represented the beginning of something good, not the introduction to something perpetually disappointing.

The offense can't be magically fixed. There are tweaks that could be made, like Endy Chavez getting out of the leadoff spot or out of Seattle forever, Ty Kelly getting a shot at a corner outfield spot (Kelly suddenly is playing OF regularly in AAA for the past week), and Corey Hart/Michael Saunders returning from injury. But these are minor things, small fixes that will only bring the Mariners offense from terrible to pretty bad. Calling them fixes is speculative, at best. It's partially a problem of design, spreading too much trust across too many players trying to break out and become something, finally. But it's also on the players.

Brad Miller is starting to hit. Michael Saunders was hitting before he hurt himself again. These guys might be correcting their career paths, justifying their inclusion in Z's design for this season. But Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley are sputtering again, and the Mariners can't really do anything about it. There's no obvious upgrades available, and even the ones that might be more intriguing probably aren't. It's nice to wish that Ty Kelly could come up and outperform Ackley, and that Ji-Man Choi could outhit Justin Smoak, but in reality those players would be more likely to match production instead of beat it.

But it would be different, and it would signify something, an admission that these two aren't the answer. Dustin Ackley still has value and potential as a second baseman. As a corner outfielder, he just doesn't hit enough to justify this much longer. You could argue Justin Smoak's rope should have run out two years ago, all excuses aside. Everybody has injuries, and everybody has bad things happen in their life. It's not intended to be insensitive. The best have the ability to overcome adversity, and the ones who can't usually get kicked to the curb. The Mariners can't let Smoak go, and they've failed at securing a backup plan for when he craters again. It happened.

I've veered off-topic here, because this is supposed to be about the past week, and how this offense let the Mariners down. Justin Smoak isn't even on the Mariners right now. This isn't specifically his fault, but now things have gotten into the broader sense. Where the Mariners have come from years past, the last times this offense was this bad. We're seeing it again. Logan Morrison, Milton Bradley. Willie Bloomquist, Adam Kennedy. Endy Chavez, Endy Chavez. Justin Smoak, Justin Smoak.

It's not a matter of being upset at the front office or accusing them of making a mistake. They assembled an offense with good upside and bad downside. Things have fallen down more than they've climbed up, but the pitching staff has been tremendous. They deserve credit for making the Mariners as good as they are. If another GM took over this team, chances are he would have given Ackley, Smoak, and Saunders another shot as well. It's an unenviable position, and if I tried to point a finger, I wouldn't know where I'd pointing it. Not right now. Nelson Cruz didn't seem to want to come here. Kendrys Morales seemed disinterested as well. The ownership wasn't willing to spend enough to convince them otherwise, and it was probably smart to do so. Maybe, Still, this offense. This wasted opportunity. I don't know.

It's often clear how this team can be improved. Perhaps it's a clear demotion/promotion, a waiver claim, or a guy who needs to ride the pine. We spend thousands of words obsessing over the little stuff, the moves that may only make a handful of games difference, if that. It seems important because it is, especially when you consider how tight the second wild card race could be. But the problems the Mariners have with their offense is beyond minor suggestions. It requires knowledge of things we don't know, and can't know. We don't know why Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley are bad hitters again, we don't know why the Mariners chose not to replace them, and we don't know who they failed to acquire after valiant attempts. All I know is that the Mariners just blew a huge opportunity to win a handful of those all-important games that we obsess over.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I'm not mad, I'm just tired.

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