Seattle Mariners

It’s now or never for Mariners after closing August with a thud

Mariners starter Felix Hernandez, who gve up six runs in four innings to the Rangers on Wednesday, says, “We have a day off, and then we start playing again the next day.”
Mariners starter Felix Hernandez, who gve up six runs in four innings to the Rangers on Wednesday, says, “We have a day off, and then we start playing again the next day.” The Associated Press

There’s a point in every train wreck when the cars stop tumbling, the dust settles and a silence temporarily descends from all directions.

The Mariners got a chance to reset Thursday when the calendar, in turning to September, provided them with an open date, a temporary silence of sorts, after they spent the last 11 days careening away from postseason contention.

“Guys will bounce back,” general manager Jerry Dipoto declared. “They always do. That’s what players do. We’ve hit the floor before, and we seem to bounce back off. We’ll get home and, hopefully, we’ll get healthy.

“This road trip didn’t do a lot for us.”

Not to minimize the damage of a 1-6 trip through Chicago and Texas, but the Mariners started their free fall on Aug. 21 when they blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning at home in a loss to hapless Milwaukee.

The Mariners were on a 14-4 surge as they carried that three-run lead into the ninth. They were poised to go 11 games over .500 for the first time this season and pull even with Baltimore for the American League’s final wild-card berth.

They had a chance to close to within five games of first-place Texas in the AL West after trailing the Rangers by 11 1/2 games as late as June 29. With seven head-to-head games remaining, a division title fleetingly beckoned.

All the Mariners needed to do was hold onto a three-run cushion for three outs against the Brewers, who had lost six in a row and were poised to complete a seventh straight game without ever holding a lead.

Welp …

Tom Wilhelmsen and Vidal Nuno gave up four runs and six hits in the ninth inning as the Brewers rallied for a 7-6 victory. Starting with that game, the Mariners are 2-9, including two walk-off losses on the just-completed trip.

“We need to get out of here,” pitcher Felix Hernandez said after serving as the point man for Wednesday’s 14-1 shellacking at Texas. “We have a day off (Thursday), and then we start playing again the next day.”

The math is grim as the Mariners, at 68-65, prepare for Friday’s start to a weekend series against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field. They have 29 games remaining, but must leap past five clubs for that final wild-card berth.

The latest computer projections from calculate the Mariners as having only a 7 percent chance of reaching the postseason. It was 43 percent before their 2-9 skid.

“We need to pick it up, no doubt,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “It’s been a rough trip. Guys are down a little bit. Rightly so. The homestand is not going to be easy either. The Angels are playing well, and then we see Texas again.”

Servais’ oft-stated goal throughout the season was for his club to be “playing meaningful games in September.” Fine. Check that box.

It’s September, and the games are meaningful inasmuch as the Mariners, if they are to make a move — and end MLB’s longest postseason drought — that move probably needs to start now.

There is precedent. Their 14-4 surge through early August mirrored a sustained 25-12 run from mid-April through late May. The Mariners have shown they can do what they need to do.

For now, that’s the lifeline, and they’re holding on tight.

“Yeah, no doubt,” said designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who should return Friday to the lineup after missing the last two games at Texas because of an injured hand.

“There are a lot of games left. We play the guys who are in front of us. So nothing is done. We just have to keep our heads up.”

The schedule appears to offer opportunity. The Mariners play 16 of their remaining 29 games against three of the AL’s worst clubs: six against Los Angeles (58-74), seven against Oakland (57-75) and three against Minnesota (49-83).

One cautionary note: The Mariners, at this point, are 14-14 against those three bottom feeders. They have six games left against Houston, four against Texas and three against Toronto.

More grim math:

A year ago, Houston reached (and won) the wild-card game after winning 86 games. It was the AL’s lowest victory total for a postseason club in the four years since MLB added a second wild-card qualifier.

The Mariners, even if the bar remains that low, need an 18-11 closing kick to get to 86 victories. Tellingly, though, that was Dipoto’s rough projection in late January at the club’s annual prespring media day.

“We will start the season,” he said at the time, “with the idea that we’re going to get into the mid-80 (range). We built the roster with the idea to get into the mid-80s … and then let the chips fall where they may.”

On Wednesday, with the chips piling up after that season-worst loss at Texas, Dipoto remained upbeat when asked whether the Mariners had another run in them. Asked another way: Can they get the train back on the track?

“I don’t see any reason why not,” Dipoto said. “Ten days ago we were playing as well as anybody in baseball. That’s the way baseball goes.”

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners