Seattle Mariners

Mariners’ surge because ‘guys are playing to the back of their bubble gum cards’

Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano slides safely into home in the fourth inning Sunday. Despite lingering soreness, Cano has been one of several hot hitters for the Mariners. Entering Sunday, Cano was batting .323 with 14 doubles and 12 home runs since July.
Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano slides safely into home in the fourth inning Sunday. Despite lingering soreness, Cano has been one of several hot hitters for the Mariners. Entering Sunday, Cano was batting .323 with 14 doubles and 12 home runs since July. The Seattle Times

The Seattle Mariners can still earn a playoff spot.

It’s improbable, but not impossible. They’re seven games behind the Texas Rangers for the second American League wild-card spot with 18 games to play.

Surprising considering just how much this team has underperformed, and also considering they’ve made roster and front office moves that appeared to be made with an eye on 2016.

The Mariners have won eight of 12 games thanks to an offense that has come to life — especially Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Mark Trumbo — and a now-dependable bullpen (one that didn’t allow a run in six innings of relief in Sunday’s 3-2 loss).

“I think our guys are playing to the back of their bubble gum cards,” manager Lloyd McClendon said prior to Sunday’s game. “And now they are putting up the type of numbers that they are capable of putting up.”

Only he envisioned this for an entire season — not a three-month stretch.

“To say we are satisfied with where we are? No. It’s been a very disappointing season in a lot of different aspects,” he said.

Just how much have things changed since the first half of the season?

Entering Sunday, Cano was batting .323 with 14 doubles and 12 home runs since July.

The first three months? He hit .238 with four homers.

Seager? He hit .258 the first three months. He’s hitting .458 his past 15 games.

Then there’s Trumbo, who has reached base safely in 34 of 39 games since July 27 with nine home runs. Trumbo arrived via trade June 3 and was 11 for 79 in his first 22 games.

That’s not to mention a bullpen that’s seen Danny Farquhar recently rediscover his form and Tom Wilhelmsen throw 12 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings with eight saves in eight opportunities.

“A lot of people would say offense, but I would say our bullpen,” McClendon said of the reason for the Mariners’ recent success. “Wilhelmsen going back into the closer’s role, Carson Smith back into the setup role — we’ve been piecing together the sixth and seventh innings for the most part and we haven’t blown any saves as of late.”

McClendon knocked on his desk as he spoke.

“The fact is, regardless of what your record is, you have to go out and perform. We are in the business of entertaining. If you don’t give the best that you can possibly give, you really shouldn’t get paid. It’s still a job.”

WINDED WALKER?

Taijuan Walker’s season could be nearing its end.

The right-hander is scheduled to start the series opener when the Mariners face the Los Angeles Angels on Monday, but how many starts he’ll make beyond that is up in the air.

McClendon said they could probably pitch Walker up to 185 innings this season. He’s at 162 2/3 innings.

If Walker were to pitch four more games — of the 18 left in the Mariners’ season — at six innings per start, he’d end the year at 186 innings. He threw 129 innings last season between the Mariners, the minors and the Arizona Fall League.

“I think more than anything, instead of just putting a number on it, we have to trust what our eyes are telling us and what the kid is feeling like,” McClendon said. “We need to take all those things into consideration, and we also need to figure out where we are.”

McClendon was mum on how many starts Walker will make the rest of the way.

“All I can tell you is that he’s making the start (Monday) and then we’ll figure things out from there,” he said.

SHORT HOPS

Brad Miller was set to start in center field for the Mariners on Sunday, but was scratched just prior to the first pitch with neck spasms. … Cano got up slowly after sliding into home during the fourth inning because of lingering pain from an abdominal strain that forced him to miss three games in July. He was already rounding the bases gingerly on the play, though he said Sunday wasn’t different than any other day. “Any time that I force it, I can feel it a little bit,” Cano said. “Every time I run I feel it. But then it just goes away. ... I was OK. Also, I don’t want to just get up right away (after the slide into home).”

ON TAP

The Los Angeles Angels visit Safeco Field for a three-game series, starting at 7:10 p.m. Monday. Walker (10-8, 4.70 ERA) will get the start against Angels right-hander Garret Richards (13-10, 3.71). The game can be seen on Root Sports and heard on 710-AM.

TJ Cotterill:253-597-8677

t.cotterill@thenewstribune.com

@TJCotterill

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