The alarm is sounding in Seattle, and perhaps for the first time all season, players are speaking with heightened urgency as the window on realistically getting back into the postseason chase without needing a weeks-long winning streak is closing.
The Mariners entered the week with 5.4% odds to reach the playoffs, per FanGraphs, after dropping to eight games back of the third and final AL Wild Card spot. It’s actually not their lowest mark of the season (5.1%), but it’s significantly down from where they started the year (22.8%). Their highest odds were at 46.1% on April 26. These projections fluctuate, but they're significantly more accurate than not.
That’s not to say that all hope is completely lost, as Mariners players recognize that things need to turn immediately, beginning with a 25-game stretch leading into the All-Star break with 19 games against opponents under .500.
Ty France is the biggest contributor among position players -- the group that has largely been responsible for the downturn -- as the pitching has been on one of the Majors’ best stretches over the past month. He spoke candidly about the lineup’s struggles, particularly with runners in scoring position. The Mariners are hitting .256/.343/.408 (.751 OPS) in those situations and went 19-for-89 on the 3-8 homestand, which played a huge part in going scoreless in four games.
“Honestly, it just comes down to I think we're just putting too much pressure on ourselves,” France said. “Trying to capitalize on those opportunities and just coming down to not getting the job done.”
The Mariners have now stranded 501 baserunners this season, a well-chronicled issue that is the worst in baseball.
“I think right now guys are just trying to do too much,” France said. “We haven't been scoring many runs lately, so when we get those opportunities, I think we're really trying to capitalize on it and just maybe putting too much pressure on ourselves and just not getting the job done right now.”
Mariners manager Scott Servais spoke about an adjustment needed by Seattle’s hitters in those high-leverage moments.
“You guys all know I love football,” Servais said. “I love a lot of things about it. And when you have runners in scoring position in football, you're in the red zone. OK, we're in the red zone, who's the pressure on? It's on the defense. That's why they blitz more in the red zone. That's why they're trying to do some different things that make you uncomfortable, and in understanding that, flipping it back to baseball, when you are at the plate in those situations, the pressure is on the pitcher. He has to execute.”
If players don’t make adjustments, could changes come?
“Yeah, no question,” Servais said. “I do think ultimately, players that have a track record in the league and have had success in the league, certainly you warrant those guys a longer leash at times,” Servais said. “Then there are certain young players that you want to play out, they get on a roll and let them go even if they are struggling a little bit at that moment, hey let them go. But each individual situation is a little bit different. I don't think you can just throw a blanket out."
A team meeting held early Sunday not leading to immediate results, instead being followed by a second straight shutout, was unfortunate. Sometimes, that happens. But there is nonetheless recognition that the hitters have to make things turn immediately.
“We all talked and aired it out, and I think we are in a good spot,” France said. “We just have to keep trusting in one another to get the job done.”