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Homestand of Horrors

When the just completed homestand began, the Mariners were the talk of baseball. A surprise juggernaut that won 11 of their first 13 games and were very nearly undefeated, a powerful lineup hitting home runs and scoring at a record pace. It was a beautiful thing to behold.

Then things got real.

The M's played well in three games against the Houston Astros, save for some questionable bullpen usage, and despite losing all three games still looked like they might be for real. Any offense can crumble when up against the best of the best, which Astro pitchers Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole certainly are. No need to get too upset over that series. Now, though...

As a Twitter acquaintance put it after the Cleveland Indians completed a sweep of the Mariners with a 1-0 victory this afternoon, the M's are replicating last season—exciting early on, first place, surprise contenders, second-half collapse, slide into disappointment and chaos—all condensed into the first few weeks.

Cleveland is a better team than their early play would suggest, but they nevertheless are, for the moment, a poor-hitting squad and eminently beatable, particularly when the Seattle bats have been so good. And yet, despite solid efforts and quality starts by all three Mariner starting pitchers, the offense simply failed to show up. It's like the guys that went bananas hitting against Kansas City and Boston were replaced by imposters against Cleveland. Or vice-versa—perhaps the hot-streak M's were the phonies.

Either way, the feel-good 11-2 Mariners are now the hapless and mockable 11-8 Mariners. In the six-game homestand, Seattle averaged 2½ runs per game. Not good, but still, in four of the six contests they were in position to win or close to a comeback in later innings. The pitching staff, despite serving up slams to José Altuve and Yuli Gurriel on Friday and the bullpen surrender on Monday, has largely done its job. Houston scored 16 runs in their three games, but their margins of victory were four, two, and one run; Cleveland's margins were two, two, and one. Facing Verlander and Cole at their best is a tough assignment, but throughout the Cleveland series the M's just looked terrible, a futile lineup of limp spaghetti in games that were very winnable.

The Mariners struck out 33 times in this latest series. When batters did reach, they were rarely advanced (and twice only by virtue of wild pitches). The plate discipline the M's had been showing so well all but vanished versus Cleveland (with a couple of interesting individual exceptions, e.g. Dee Gordon). Tim Beckham has fallen off a cliff. Jay Bruce looks like Rob Deer. Ryon Healy has reverted to being Ryon Healy.

Meanwhile, Houston has now won ten straight and retaken first place. Last week it felt like the Mariners could do no wrong, they were a team of destiny. This week it feels like they're a bunch of bums that waste quality starting pitching (poor Erik Swanson gave up two hits in six innings today and was the "loser"). What will it feel like next week? Add your thoughts below!

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