SEATTLE – The Seattle Mariners would have given most anything to be in a pennant race their final 30 games.
As it turns out, they’re in several – just not their own – and it may wreak havoc with what remains of their season.
Against a Chicago team still in the American League Central hunt, the Mariners were beaten on Sunday, 9-3, as the White Sox completed a sweep at Safeco Field and headed for a showdown with the Minnesota Twins.
The Mariners? They jump into someone else’s race tonight, when they begin a four-game series with the Los Angeles Angels.
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Yes, they’re in the same division – but the Angels are playing for a postseason.
Seattle is playing out its season.
“This time of year, teams in it know your weaknesses and attack them,” manager Eric Wedge said.
Looking ahead to their final 30 games, the Mariners face the Angels (seven games), Rangers (six), Yankees (three), Indians (one) and Twins (three) – 20 games against teams still playing for a shot at the playoffs.
The other 10 games will be with Kansas City and Oakland
What happened Sunday could be a preview of coming destructions:
Jason Vargas, who said, “I didn’t feel I pitched badly,” gave up 10 hits – one of them a grand slam – and nine runs in 5 2/3 innings.
The Mariners’ offense, shut out on three hits a night earlier, began the eighth inning with two hits and no runs.
Which reflected what Wedge was saying. As the season winds down, teams with the chance to play into October are seized by a feeding frenzy – and what they eat first is bad teams.
The Mariners, at 56-76, qualify.
Yes, the infusion of young talent has made them a more intriguing team to watch and given the franchise and its fans some measure of hope for the future. But the four rookies in the Seattle starting lineup on this day went a combined 2-for-12.
And struck out eight times.
“Taking nothing away from their pitching, I didn’t think we did a very good job offensively,” Wedge said. “We gave away too many at-bats, we made some easy outs.”
Shortstop Brendan Ryan agreed.
“(Gavin) Floyd threw a good game, but we’ve all got to look in the mirror today,” Ryan said. “There were not many adjustments made out there. He threw a lot of fastballs, and you’ve got to be ready to hit the heater.”
Rookie outfielder Treyvon Robinson went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
“Fastballs away, sliders in,” he said of the pitches he saw. “Did I have good at-bats? I thought I had some good swings, but they were spotting their pitches pretty well.”
And Vargas was not, which made the job of White Sox hitters easier – and much harder for the Mariners.
In a scoreless tie through three innings, Vargas gave up a pair of singles in the fourth, then a home run from outfielder Dayan Viciedo. It put Seattle in a hole, down by the same 3-0 score the Mariners had lost by a night earlier.
Had Vargas faced Viciedo before? Yes, but it didn’t help.
“You don’t need a book when you throw it down the middle and he hits it out to straightaway center,” Vargas said.
The sixth inning finished Vargas and his teammates. Two singles and a one-out walk loaded the bases for Chicago and brought up catcher Tyler Flowers.
“I threw him a cutter in, it was where I wanted it,” Vargas said.
Flowers hit it out for one of those four-run-homer things.
By the time the Mariners awakened a crowd of 25,630 with their offense, it was 9-0 and in the eighth inning. Then, after rookie Kyle Seager struck out on a wild pitch then scrambled to first base, veteran reserve catcher Josh Bard homered.
An inning later, Bard’s ground ball scored Ryan, who’d walked. It gave Bard three RBI and all other Mariners none.
In the end, with a man on second and two outs in the ninth inning, it came down to Ichiro Suzuki.
The right fielder already had two hits – his 150th and 151st of the season. This time, against former Mariner Matt Thornton, he grounded out.
Among the intrigues of their final month will be Ichiro’s drive for an 11th consecutive 200-hit season. With 29 games remaining, he needs 49 hits.
“The last week or 10 days, he’s been squaring the ball up,” Wedge said.
Not the gaudiest of endorsements, but Wedge is likely more concerned about how many more games his team can win, how well the 12 rookies on his roster play the rest of the way.