SEATTLE — It’s an accepted postulate in Major League Baseball that pretenders begin to unravel in August. Clubs that can patch their deficiencies for four months typically succumb at that (this) point to the law of averages.
That brings us to the Mariners, now increasingly viewed as pretenders after squandering what was once a healthy lead in the American League wild-card race by stumbling badly over the last few weeks.
Skeptics point to their minus-29 run differential as proof: Their pythagorean winning percentage, a formula devised by sabermetric grandmaster Bill James, says the Mariners should be 54-61 instead of 65-50.
It’s not hopeless, even after 15 losses in their last 22 games, but this is crunch time. The Mariners embark Thursday on a brutal 16-game run: at Houston (4), at Oakland (3), vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (3), vs. Houston (3) and at Arizona (3).
Four things need to happen for the Mariners to turn things around:
***RESOLVE THE FELIX SITUATION
The Mariners can go one of two ways on this: They can pull Hernandez from their rotation or they can keep running him out there every five days. What they can’t do is allow the drip-drip-drip of uncertainty to continue.
It’s counterproductive to everyone, not just Felix, to let the current situation fester while seeming to judge him on a start-by-start basis. (Actually, it seems more inning-by-inning.)
If the Mariners believe Erasmo Ramirez or someone at Triple-A Tacoma (such as Christian Bergman, Rob Whalen or Ross Detwiler) gives them a better chance to win than Felix, they should make the move.
If not, tell Felix to just pitch; and make it clear to everyone that his spot in the rotation is secure. Then hope for the best.
***MORE BOP FROM THE TOP
While the spotlight seems centered on Felix, the bigger problem for the Mariners is their lack of scoring. Getting Robinson Cano back will help — we’ll get to that — but it won’t be enough if Dee Gordon and Jean Segura remain punchless.
Gordon has a .278 on-base percentage since June 1, which is abysmal for anyone but doubly so for a leadoff hitter. Segura has a galling .203/.233/.261 slash in 17 games since returning from a star turn at the All-Star Game.
No wonder the Mariners aren’t scoring enough runs.
***CANO MUST MAKE AN IMPACT
The Mariners still have a few more days before Cano returns Aug. 14 from his 80-game suspension for a drug-policy violation. The hope is that he fine-tunes his swing this week at Tacoma and Short-A Everett.
It will be interesting to see how the Mariners work Cano into their lineup. Right now, he appears ticketed for extensive duty at first base. This much, though, is certain: He’s going to play every day, and the Mariners need him to be in top form.
***TIGHTEN THE MIDDLE
Even with Felix’s struggles, and a recent rocky stretch overall, the Mariners’ rotation is exceeding expectations. This is, remember, a club that was built to win with its bullpen — and that bullpen, overall, has been a disappointment.
The Mariners have an All-Star closer in Edwin Diaz, but everyone else has been a mishmash of inconsistency. It’s easy to see why so many of general manager Jerry Dipoto’s recent moves centered on bolstering the set-up corps.
Former Tampa Bay closer Alex Colome took a while to settle in after arriving in a May 25 trade, but he hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last 15 outings — even if many of them are reminiscent of Fernando Rodney’s thrill rides.
After watching Juan Nicasio (now injured) and Nick Vincent struggle, the Mariners made trade-deadline moves to acquire Adam Warren, Zach Duke and Sam Tuivailala in hopes of providing a more-reliable bridge to Diaz.
It hasn’t yet worked out that way. If that doesn’t change, and soon, it’s hard to see the Mariners ending their 16-year postseason drought.