Texas Meltdown

Well, that was ugly.

The Mariners came into the Dallas Metroplex badly needing to chalk up a couple of wins. They'd just dropped three of four to the sad-sack Blue Jays and were looking ahead to a schedule chock full of tough opponents. This series against the last-place Rangers was the opportunity to get back on track and build some confidence before going to Houston. Instead, they lost two of three and very nearly were swept.

There were bright spots, areas of good to take comfort in as well as bad to analyze, but the bottom line is that Seattle lost more ground in the standings as time begins to run out in the season. And it didn't have to be that way—each of the three games were winnable, the final scores do not reflect the type of contests played. From here on in, the Mariners have to play smarter; more of these sort of brain-cramp losses will doom a previously fun and promising campaign.

Game one was nearly lost with dumb bullpen management before the M's squeaked out a win in the 12th inning.

Game two on Tuesday night was going well for the first third, then the bottom of the third inning saw Texas score four to take the lead as Felix Hernández began to unravel, but things were not yet out of hand. Given Felix's recent history, the bad third inning—walk, line-drive hit, bunt hit, RBI grounder, double to the gap, hard single, double-play—might have prompted some bullpen action, but apparently we're still giving The King some extra slack when he gets in trouble, so he went back out there in the fourth. And he did fine, but a bad play by Kyle Seager (who used to be awesome at the hot corner, but since returning from paternity leave has seemed barely awake out there) led to another run. In the fifth, Felix was going to get through it unscathed until Seager committed another error, extending the inning and allowing Jurickson Profar to belt a three-run homer and send the score to 8-4. That's bad—especially since four of those eight runs were unearned—but this is Arlington in the summer and four runs isn't insurmountable in the middle innings. For some unknown reason, manager Scott Servais—who, I remind you, has eight relievers in his bullpen—sent Felix out there to take more lumps in the sixth, when three more runs on two monster homers put the game well out of reach. There's no telling how things would have unfolded had Seager made those two plays cleanly, or if Servais had gone to the 'pen to start the fourth. Texas may still have torched the M's (they have been on a roll lately). But this game was lost by Seattle as much as it was won by Texas.

Game three this afternoon was perhaps the least winnable, oddly; from the pitching matchup, one would be forgiven thinking the M's would take it in a walk, but Marco Gonzales was not sharp in the Texas heat and Yovanni Gallardo did not pitch like Yovanni Gallardo. Still, down 7-2 in the seventh, Seattle's bats finally came alive and the M's got back in it with four runs; things were looking up at 7-6. But then Zach Duke came on to pitch the bottom of the inning and was allowed to stay in the game much too long. James Pazos had pitched the final one-third of the sixth and didn't need to come out, but Servais opted for Duke and Duke was, once again, completely awful.

I'm not sure if I should fault Servais for the initial move or not; Duke was acquired to be a lefty-specialist, and the second and third batters due up were lefties. But after giving up a hit, and RBI double, and another RBI double, Servais left him in—maybe because there was another lefty coming three batters later?—and he quite predictably served up another RBI double and was still left in, only being relieved when two consecutive right-handers were due up. Duke's line for the night was 23 of an inning (thanks to a sac bunt), 4 hits, 4 runs (all earned). Chad Bradford then finished up with 113 scoreless. Meanwhile, Mike Zunino hit his second homer of the game in the ninth, but instead of that bringing the score to 7-7, it was 7-(7+Zach Duke). Kyle Seager also had a hand in this loss, as the Rangers' 11th run would not have happened had Seager not had a brain freeze about how many runners were on base and made an easy tag for the third out instead of assuming it was a force play and just stepping on third base.

This is, to borrow a phrase, bush-league stuff.

Yes, Marco had a bad outing, but his teammates came back to bail him out and match the seven runs he allowed. Yes, Felix continued his fall from greatness by getting hammered, but he needn't have been left to take the pounding. Yes, Seattle did win the first game in extras, but only after trying so hard to give it away in regulation.

My takeaway from this series is that Scott Servais needs to relearn how to handle pitchers and Kyle Seager needs to catch up on his sleep (his wife just had a baby last weekend, he's probably been getting by on just a few hours' worth, and the two-time-zone jump east probably didn't do him any favors). Seager will get his rest sooner or later. But Servais' handling of the bullpen is a bigger issue—pulling LeBlanc for no good reason when he's absolutely dominating, then letting Hernández get battered bloody the next night, then wasting Pazos on a third of an inning and throwing Duke out there for a longer stint—the exact opposite of the plan when Duke was acquired—and having it blow up... Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern. Had this sort of thing happened earlier in the year and he was just getting away with it, or is this inability to know when to hold ’em and when to fold 'em new?

Big Maple takes the hill in Houston tomorrow against Verlander. No margin for error there. Get some sleep, Kyle.


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