The Mariners have been hit hard by injuries to their pitching staff, leaving manager Scott Servais and his crew scrambling to find anyone who can get outs. Who will step up?
Last season, the Mariners missed a chance at playing in the silly Wild Card play-in, playoff (?) game by only a few losses. You could point to many reasons why the Mariners fell just short of their first postseason berth since 2001, but it all came down to pitching.
Because the Mariners had to shuffle their rotation so many times last year, they ended up throwing several AAA starters into the Show on short notice, and relied on their bullpen too many times to mop up too many messes. The term ‘bullpen game’ was heard all too often in the Mariners clubhouse. It turned out that missing Felix Hernandez (even a King Felix who saw his effectiveness dip last season) for those batch of starts when he was on the Disabled List last year cost them the postseason.
This year, the pitching carousel continues. A rash of arm and shoulder injuries has plagued Major League Baseball this season, and the Mariners have felt it more than most teams. Coming into the regular season, Seattle had a decent rotation on paper and plenty of arms in the bullpen. General Manager Jerry Dipoto loves to stash extra arms in the minor leagues to call up and send down as needed. In the age of elbow inflammation and forearm tightness, it appeared Seattle had several options for the eventuality of a few of their starters or relievers getting hurt.
Now, on May 16th, the Mariners are left with four fifths of their rotation on the DL. Drew Smyly was of course the first casualty, getting placed on the long-term Disabled List after he threw out his arm in his excellent World Baseball Classic performance. You know the rest. Felix went down, James Paxton, who was off to an excellent start and appeared to be the ace of the staff, went down. Hisashi Iwakuma, whose injury prone-ness I questioned at the beginning of the year, is out.
The worst injury bug to hit a Mariners team in recent memory has left only Yovani Gallardo, an afterthought number-five starter, and several quad-A players the only men standing.
The Mariners are only three games below .500 but are a whopping nine games behind the Houston Astros, who are quickly running away with the division. There are over four months of the season to go, but if Seattle has a chance of catching Houston later in the year or at least getting into that ridiculous Wild Card game, they have to at least play .500 ball during this month-long period of AAA pitching–and Gallardo.
Paxton is in line to be the first of the M’s walking wounded to return, possibly by the end of this month. Reinforcements aren’t coming, and one replacement pitcher, Ryan Weber, is already on the shelf.
More from Emerald City Swagger
- Seattle Seahawks: To rest or not to rest, that is the question
- Washington State Football: What you need to know for 2018 Alamo Bowl
- Washington Basketball: 3 takeaways from Huskies win over Sacramento St.
- Seattle Seahawks: 12s still waiting to exhale
- Seattle Seahawks: 4 Takeaways from 26-23 Loss to the 49ers
That leaves it up to Ariel Miranda and Gallardo to save the Mariners’ season. Of the motley crew of starters the Mariners have remaining in the high minors, Miranda appears to have the best stuff. He’s a rookie by MLB standards, but really he’s a veteran of the Cuban leagues since he was 18. He was last seen striking out eight Blue Jays in five innings while allowing one run on three hits. He’s been up and down this year, but he appears ready to take advantage of his opportunity, and he brings some fire with him to the mound.
The Mariners’ depth chart only shows four starters, so presumably there will be another AAA pitcher called up to take a turn getting fed to the lions. 29-year-old former Rockies reliever Christian Bergman rounds out the starting four with a career 5.70 ERA.
The margin for error is diminishing. The Mariners have to win games in which their replacement-level pitching staff holds teams to less than four runs. The bullpen has to be lights-out. The offense has to keep cranking (it appears the lineup will get Robinson Cano back tonight). The veteran Gallardo will have to anchor the staff, and Miranda will have to step up. If the Mariners can somehow break even over the next few weeks, they’ll still have a chance of crawling up the standings later in the year. If it all implodes, there goes the season.
This stretch will either cement Servais as a good manager, or get him fired one way or another. How he and the rest of his staff respond to this impossible rash of injuries could define the season. Stay tuned.