February 3, 2023

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Ray, Mariners know they need a turnaround

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SEATTLE — They say that Memorial Day is typically the barometer in Major League Baseball, after which sample sizes are no longer small and results carry more legitimacy. While that’s not until Monday, unless the Mariners fare better in an upcoming weekend series against first-place Houston than they did against the A’s, they’re likely going to remain in territory that no one — not fans, not media and certainly not the team itself — envisioned at the outset of the season:

Following Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to Oakland, Seattle took sole possession of the division’s lowest spot in the standings, a position it hasn’t occupied on its own since Aug. 20, 2020. Back then, the Mariners were in the early stages of a pandemic-shortened season at 8-19, and there were far more off-the-field burdens weighing on teams across the league. They were also still in a period of player development.

But the context now is far more pressing, especially given that the Mariners entered the year with heightened expectations that the augmented roster pieces have mostly underperformed, and that they will have only themselves to dig their way out of an 18-27 hole.

“We are not playing good baseball,” manager Scott Servais said. “We know that. We have to make some adjustments here, and it needs to happen quick.”

On any given day, one deficiency or another seems to stymie Seattle. In the series finale with Oakland, it was the continued limitations of the offense.

The Mariners had only five hits, and didn’t score until Oakland starter Paul Blackburn, who they beat twice last year, departed. In the sixth and eighth innings, they had two runners on with no outs, but they managed to manufacture just one run in those sequences, thanks to a wild pitch by A’s reliever Zach Johnson with Ty France on third in the eighth. Overall, they went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranded six, bringing their total to 312 for the season, third most in baseball.

“It’s painful at times, and we’re going through some painful times right now, there’s no question about it,” Servais said. “But you’ve got to come in with a good frame of mind. You’ve got to work your tail off. That’s the only way to go about it.”

Those late-innings sequences have been pivotal all season. Seattle is 16-0 when leading after six innings and 0-23 when trailing that late. It thrived in these types of games last year, with 42 of its 90 wins coming in games in which the club was behind at one point. The Mariners were also able to wash away losses seamlessly, going 41-30 on days after defeat compared to 10-16 this season.

“No one likes to lose, especially the way we are right now — especially games I think we should be winning,” J.P. Crawford said. “But yeah, it’s frustrating. But you can’t look down on it. You’ve got to keep going about it.”

Moreover, the Mariners are 5-16 when the opposing team scores first, as was the case Wednesday. They fell behind early and couldn’t make their way back despite a solid start from Robbie Ray, who racked up a season-high-tying 10 strikeouts over six innings. Yet Ray was bitten by the long ball, including one from Elvis Andrus that left his bat at 98.3 mph and had just an 8% hit probability, per Statcast.

Ray, frustrated by the result, has now surrendered 10 homers this year, contributing to the 61 overall from the pitching staff — the most in baseball by five.

Ray has been on playoff teams before, and also clubs that underperformed. After the Mariners signed him to a $115 million contract in December, he said he wanted to lead, and he believes a turnaround can happen.

“Guys are playing to the last out. … I think that’s the biggest thing, sticking with the process and understanding that things are going to turn around.” Ray said.

After winning just three on a 10-game road trip to the East Coast, the Mariners returned home without a major sense of urgency. They’d been in this situation before, last year, when they were five games under .500 after a brutal sweep in San Diego, but they went on to win more games (69) the rest of the way than all but just one AL team, the Rays (71).

Yet after another series loss this week, their ninth out of 14 this season — and to a team that they defeated 15 times in 19 tries last year — things are increasingly pressing.

“We’re at a critical part in our season here,” Servais said. “I think everybody realizes that.”

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