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46-46: The Mariners painfully discover loaded bases don't earn runs on their own, lose to Astros 8-1

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The Mariners were very bad and the Astros were not bad, so the latter won, 8-1.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

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Beer, precious beer: Nelson Cruz (.192 WPA)

That dirt stuff towards the end of your French press: Dae-Ho Lee (-.271 WPA

The Jerry Chronicles: 2..........late on drivin' those runs in, boys

As they painfully limp towards the All-Star break, the Mariners dropped yet another game to the Houston Astros on Sunday, falling back to .500 in an 8-1 loss at Safeco Field.

With starters Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker still stuck on the DL, the Mariners called upon the services of Mike Montgomery (3-4, 2.20 ERA) for his second spot start of the season today. Montgomery gave up four runs over his five innings of work on the afternoon, but the box score won't tell you exactly how all the cards fell: with two on in the first, and with the speedy Carlos Correa at the plate, Astros first baseman Marwin Gonzalez took off for third in the middle of the count. Although Sucre managed to get the ball out of his glove in good time, gold-glove third baseman Kyle Seager missed the catch, and Gonzalez promptly made it all the way around to score the first run of the day with the ball stuck in the middle of left field. It was the first of four errors on the afternoon by a Mariners team which has taken great steps to improve its defense in 2016.

"Just tired," Seager said, referring to his first-inning error after the game. "You always hear it's a long season, but I think people forget about the mental side of that statement. Just looking forward to taking a few days to clear my mind next week."

But Seager's struggles for the day did not stop at the end of that gold-plated glove. Although the former All-Star is hitting .436 over the past two weeks of gameplay, he found himself at the plate twice this afternoon with the bases loaded. Both times he struck out--in the first, with an out only moments after missing a grand slam by a few feet, and in the third with no outs on a nasty curve at the ankles from Astros' starter Collin McHugh. In fact, the Mariners would load the bases again in the bottom of the eighth, this time finally putting a single run across. But it still wouldn't be enough to even give the exhausted team two runs on the afternoon.

McHugh picked up the win on the afternoon, ending the day with 10 strikeouts over six innings while giving up only four hits. But the real story for the Mariners' offensive woes is what the team did with those four hits--six by day's end--strewn conservatively throughout the nearly three-hour struggles before a sub-20,000 Seattle crowd. Although the M's drew seven walks off Astros' pitching this afternoon, their seven hits--one from Seth Smith, Ketel Marte, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and Shawn O'Malley, and two dribblers from Nelson Cruz--weren't enough to keep the team from grounding into five double plays, and leaving nine men on base. In short: this looked like a team worn to their edges, running on an empty tank, in desperate need of the mental break which waits for them during the upcoming break from play they have waiting ahead.

After Montgomery was pulled in the sixth, another former Mariner starter, Nate Karns, quickly loaded the bases before giving up a one-out grand slam to Carlos Gomez, blowing the game wide open. It was all Leonys Martin could do to watch it sail over his head, assuring the club would fall again back down to .500 as they head into the important halfway point of the season.

"We gotta do something, but at some point you just gotta get to the finish line," Martin said. "Injuries, you know, we're hurt...it's hard to just work through that you know? Montgomery was pitching well and what, you have Karns, he's also doing good--but you miss here, you miss there, and they can turn the page just like that. Just ready to clear my mind."

The Mariners head into the break 8.5 games back from the Texas Rangers, who are themselves only a game back from leading the entire American League. Although the era of the Second Wild Card makes these comparisons a little less than perfect, the team stands two-and-a-half games behind the lowest point of their stunning second-half comeback during the 1995 season, a threshold which makes it all the more important for them to come back from the break with bats swinging and pitches landing. A slow start for the second half could be curtains for a team with playoff intentions, but even worse would be a team who can't even seem to keep their heads in the game after almost an entire week of time off.

"Come Monday, I think you'll see an entirely new team come out of that dugout," said Mariners skipper Scott Servais in his post-game comments.

As of press time, scheduled base-running drills were once again delayed for extended batting practice.