For weeks on end, manager Eric Wedge’s daily briefing has turned into a trip to the psychiatrist, attempting to to decipher why the Seattle Mariners offense is so bad.
Their start to the second half of the season did nothing to end that conversation as the Mariners scored two runs in four games while being swept by Texas, dropped another three to Toronto and the opener of their current series to Boston, making it thirteen straight losses and placing them 13½ games back in the AL West.
The brief optimism of a month ago when Seattle was just a half-game out in the division race has been replaced by reality — a rebuilding season.
If the Mariners don’t improve soon, they could turn out to be one of the worst offensive teams since the designated hitter was added to the American League in 1973.
After being swept by the Blue Jays, Seattle is hitting just .221 as a team, eight points lower than anyone else in baseball and 15 points worse than any other team in the AL. Only five members of Seattle’s current roster are hitting above .240, none higher than rookie Greg Halman and his .279 average — albeit in just 68 at-bats.
Even the normally consistent Ichiro Suzuki is slumping through the worst year of his career. Suzuki entered today hitting just .267, an astounding 60 points below his career average of .327. His streak of 200 hits in every season since arriving in the majors in 2001 is at risk, with just 102 hits through 94 games.
Meanwhile, veterans such as Chone Figgins, Miguel Olivo, Jack Wilson and Jack Cust are all hitting below .230.
“Everybody goes through stuff like this, through slumps and stuff like that,” Wilson said Sunday after getting his fourth start in the last month. “… You don’t want to stand on this last homestand and what we did offensively, so you gather yourself together in Toronto and say ‘it’s going to be a good series.’”
Beyond just a lack of hitting, the Mariners simply aren’t getting on base, and at a record pace. They are the only team in the American League with an on-base percentage below .300 at just .286 nearly 100 games into the season.
Last season, the Mariners became the first AL team since the addition of the designated hitter with an on-base percentage below .300 when they finished at .298. The only other AL teams to come in below .300 were the 1981 Toronto Blue Jays and 1981 Minnesota Twins and both those came in a strike-shortened season.
Additionally, the Mariners are on pace for just 94 home runs, which would be fewest in a full season and is severely bringing down the Mariners OPS — on-base plus slugging percentage. Seattle currently stands at .611, headed toward the worst total in baseball in nearly four decades since the 1972 Texas Rangers had an OPS of .581.
It’s all adding up to an anemic offense. Wedge has regularly expressed his disappointment with his veterans being unable or unwilling to change their approach at the plate and correct what he views as problems. He said Sunday that with some of Seattle’s young prospects, the struggles are part of playing young kids at the major league level.
He has less tolerance for veterans still struggling.
“With a kid it’s somewhat understandable. With a veteran, it’s not. This is the big leagues. There is a lot of baseball they’ve played before getting up here. With younger kids, that’s one thing, but with veterans there shouldn’t be any excuses. You should be going up there with a plan and sticking with your plan to at least give yourself a chance to have success.”
The offensive woes are coming at a time when the Mariners are getting exceptional pitching. Seattle has a team ERA of 3.27, on pace to be the best pitching staff in franchise history by nearly a half-run. Despite getting swept by the Rangers, Seattle’s starting rotation all has minuscule ERAs, with Jason Vargas at 3.68 being the high mark.
Wedge has endured this before while leading the Indians rebuilding project.
“I know it’s going to get better. Anytime you went through it before it helps you the next time you go through it,” Wedge said. “The first time I went through this it was more drastic in so many different ways. I think the one thing you have to realize is we’re not playing bad baseball, we’re just not hitting at all.”
“This will make them tougher,” he continued, “and they’ve got to get tougher.”
“I know it’s going to get better. Anytime you went through it before it helps you the next time you go through it.”