OAKLAND -- One day after he played the hero in Anaheim, Carlos Santana led off the second inning on Tuesday with a chopping ground ball that pushed A’s third baseman Vimael Machín to the deepest part of the dirt toward shallow left field, forcing a long throw that, with some "big fella" hustle, allowed Santana to reach.
He’d go on to score, too, after Sam Haggerty drew a bases-loaded walk five batters later in an inning that looked like the Mariners would put up a crooked number. Yet, when the dust settled on a 4-1 defeat to the last-place A’s, Santana’s infield single wound up being Seattle’s only hit. The Mariners went 0-for-27 otherwise with 11 strikeouts, extending their offensive struggles on this final road trip one day after it looked like they'd turned a corner.
Frustration in his voice, manager Scott Servais spoke tersely after the dust settled. Usually after each game -- even for the more deflating defeats -- he has a lengthy opening statement examining the contest. But Tuesday was different.
"Obviously, not our best effort tonight," Servais said. "I'll take any questions."
Even though center fielder Julio Rodríguez returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing three games with lower back soreness, Seattle is still banged up and was again without catcher Cal Raleigh (sore left thumb) and Eugenio Suárez (fractured right index finger). There are also plenty of kinks among players in the lineup, with Servais saying over the weekend that the athletic trainers’ room “is about as full as it’s been at any point of the season.”
Yet, his hope is that the reinforcements seize the opportunity in front of them.
"Guys are dragging a little bit, and that's part of it," Servais said. "I just didn't think we were on it tonight."
Back to the second inning, where the Mariners were unable to take control of the game: after Santana singled, J.P. Crawford reached on a fielder’s choice that should’ve been an easy out, but then Dylan Moore and Abraham Toro each struck out. But Curt Casali walked to load the bases, followed by Haggerty's bases-loaded free pass ... and it looked like Seattle was in business.
A's reliever Jared Koenig was already warming for left-hander JP Sears, a former Mariners prospect, and Rodríguez was going to be the rookie’s final batter over that 37-pitch inning, per A’s manager Mark Kotsay. But he induced a flyout to escape the jam, then went on to complete the fifth inning and eventually earn the win.
"We had the chance there early," Servais said. "They created some opportunities for us by not playing good defense and some walks we drew, but we really couldn’t capitalize on the second inning and put a bigger number up there."
Nonetheless, the Mariners still carried a lead and had their workhorse on the mound. Luis Castillo was cruising right along on Tuesday until all of a sudden he wasn’t, and before he could look up, he’d given up a four-spot in the fifth inning and was pulled in a damage-control decision.
Castillo walked Nick Allen in a full count with two outs that put two on, then he attempted to go low-and-away on a changeup to Tony Kemp but went middle-middle instead, and Kemp crushed it for a three-run blast. Castillo then gave up two more doubles and a walk in succession, at which point Servais turned to the bullpen to stop the bleeding.
What was especially odd about Tuesday's game is that Castillo’s two toughest starts since being acquired ahead of the Trade Deadline have came on the mound in Oakland, both a season-high four-run showings against an offense that entered the day with MLB's lowest batting average (.216) and on-base percentage (.280), as well as the second-lowest slugging percentage (.346).
The Mariners have MLB’s easiest remaining schedule, all against sub-.500 teams, but they’re just 1-4 at the halfway point of this 10-game weave that began in Anaheim and concludes in Kansas City. They still hold a five-game lead on Baltimore for the final AL Wild Card spot and have 99.2% odds to reach the postseason, per FanGraphs. But their offensive struggles, especially given the time of year, have become far more pronounced.
"We understand the team that we have and I don't think there's a reason to panic," first baseman Ty France said. "We’re at 81 wins right now. I wouldn’t say we’re comfortable with a Wild Card spot right now. There's still baseball to be played. We need to finish strong, otherwise we won't be where we're at right now."
There isn’t panic -- there really hasn’t been all season -- but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Mariners’ postseason push, despite a schedule packed with cellar dwellers, won’t be a cakewalk.