The American League West has been the home for hot teams this month. The Texas Rangers are trying to run away with the division with a record of 47-26 and hold a 10-game lead going into Thursday. The Houston Astros have found their groove and have leap frogged the Seattle Mariners for second place in the division. Not much needs to be written about the Rangers or Astros at the moment, they are rolling, but what has happened to the M’s?
Seattle had a tough start to the year but they turned it around in May and went 17-11 for the month and led the division. Then, the calendar turned to June and the M’s are 6-15 this month and have fallen 10.5 games back of the Rangers. Several factors have led to the recent struggles including injuries, schedule and lack of clutch hitting.
First, we will start with the injury bug hitting their pitching staff. Felix Hernandez is out with a calf strain, which was only supposed to keep him out for one or two starts, but he hasn’t thrown since May 27. He is progressing but will not be back in the big leagues until after the All-Star Break. Wade Miley was placed on the DL last Friday with a shoulder issue but should be back when eligible to return. Taijuan Walker has exited early in the last two starts and will miss his scheduled start Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals. James Paxton has filled in well for the Mariners, but when you lose three starting pitchers within a month of each other things get tough. Seattle General Manager, Jerry Dipoto, made a couple of moves Wednesday to help their pitching staff. They acquired Wade LeBlanc from the Toronto Blue Jays and brought back former closer Tom Wilhelmsen from the Rangers. LeBlanc will start Friday against the Cardinals. Adrian Sampson, who is starting Thursday, is one of the replacement starters trying to give the M’s some quality innings.
The Mariners are in the midst of a 10-game road trip that concludes today against the Tigers. They have two wins in that stretch. This month, they have played the San Diego Padres, Rangers, Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox and Tigers. If the M’s want to get to October they need to beat up on the bad teams and steal a game or two from the frontrunners when possible. They are currently 6-15 in June with the Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles left on their schedule for the month. Things don’t get easier as the Astros and Kansas City Royals are waiting before the All-Star break as well. The schedule turns easier in August and September but you have to be in the hunt for those games to matter.
The Mariners, despite their struggles, are still second in runs scored in the AL. The inability to come up clutch with runners in scoring position has been a major issue, though. During their current five-game losing streak, they have left 62 men on base including 25 in their 12-inning loss to the Tigers on Monday. Nelson Cruz said he needed to be better with men on-base a few days ago. This season, he is hitting .269 with runners in scoring position compared to last season’s average of .291. With Robinson Cano having a great year, the M’s need Cruz to play to his ability with the injuries in the rotation.
All the current problems listed above are more than likely temporary, but every season has a crossroad. You either become contenders or you start looking toward next season. This is the crossroads for the M’s; the injuries are piling up and the schedule is tough, but they have to find a way to stay afloat and within striking distance of the division leader and the Wild Card. A goal for the M’s should be making it to the All-Star break a few games above .500. After the break, they should be almost back to full health (assuming no more injuries) and will need to go on a run in order to make it to their easier stretch in August and September. Don’t hit the panic button just yet, October baseball is still possible in Seattle.