A 9-2 win for most teams would be considered a good day at the ballpark – putting a good string of hits together alongside a solid pitching performance to cruise to an easy victory. This was not so much the case for the Seattle Mariners. Their 9-2 win over the New York Yankees on July 27 ended a 17-game losing streak, the worst losing streak in the major leagues since the 2005 Kansas City Royals dropped 19 straight games en route to a pathetically bad 56-106 season.
Originally, this post was supposed to put into words how historically bad this team has been in the three weeks. However, after researching some key stats of both the Mariners and their star players, I was taken aback at how… average this team has been. The Mariners are not that bad. In fact, when this losing streak began on July 6, Seattle sat just 2.5 games behind the first place Texas Rangers. A surprise contender in the division that features the reigning American League champion (Texas), the Mariners looked to be a legitimate threat in the second half of the season. That is, until July 6.
The streak began with a 2-hit shutout at the hands of the Oakland Athletics, who ironically were trying to avoid a sweep by the Mariners. In the grand scheme of things, one loss, especially just a 2-0 loss, is no big deal; random pitchers on random days will bring the right stuff to the ballpark and have a great game.
Following the series win against the A’s, Seattle headed to Anaheim to play the Angels in their final series before the All-Star break. Much like the final game in Oakland, the Mariners’ bats didn’t make much of an appearance, and certainly didn’t back up the decent pitching from their staff. Seattle dropped the four games 5-1, 4-3, 9-3, and 4-2 to run the losing streak to five games going into the break.
Once play resumed following the All-Star break, the Texas Rangers came to Seattle riding a seven game winning streak of their own. The Mariners’ offensive woes continued throughout the entire four-game series; Seattle only managed 20 hits and a mere two runs against fantastic Rangers pitching. Texas extended their streak to eleven games in the process, and seemed to quell any kind of post-All-Star break momentum.
After scoring no more than three runs in their past nine games, Seattle’s bats came to life in Toronto in the first three games of a nine-game road trip. The Mariners scored five in the first game but were derailed by baserunning mistakes late in the game, ultimately losing 6-5 to the Blue Jays in 14 innings. Adding insult to the baserunning injury, Toronto’s winning run came on a classic manufactured run: Rajai Davis singled with one out, and stole both second and third base before scoring on a sacrifice fly to end the game. Typical of the Mariners’ luck. Toronto swept the rest of the series, winning 6-5, 11-6, and 7-5, sending the streak to twelve games with trips to Boston and New York upcoming.
In Boston, the Mariners went up against the aces of the Red Sox staff: John Lackey, Josh Beckett, and Tim Wakefield. Lackey and Beckett shut down the Mariners in the first two games, winning 7-4 and 3-1. In the third game, the Mariners put eight runs on the board but fell behind early, losing 12-8. On to New York with a fifteen game losing streak.
After losing the first game of the Yankees series 10-3, the second game of the series did not fare any better. Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia pitched one of his best games of the year, retiring the first 19 batters he saw before allowing a single – the only Mariners hit of the game – to shortstop Brendan Ryan in the 7th inning. To add to the Mariners’ misery against the Yankees, Seattle struck out an incredible 18 times. Two-thirds of the outs recorded by the Yankees were strikeouts.
Following Sabathia’s domination of the Seattle lineup, there was some optimism going into the game on Wednesday, July 27 that the Mariners’ franchise record losing streak would finally come to an end. With the streak at 17, Seattle sent ace Felix Hernandez to the mound against the Yankees’ Phil Hughes, who was making his fourth start since coming back from an arm injury. Hernandez kept the Yankees at bay through six innings, and entered the top of the seventh with a 2-1 lead. The Mariners offense exploded for five runs in the top of the seventh, capped by left fielder Mike Carp’s 3-RBI double. Seattle added two more runs and ended their streak of misery at 17 games.
Looking at the statistics, the 2011 Mariners are nothing like the 2005 Royals or any other historically bad team. As of July 31, the Mariners pitching staff ranks in the top 10 in the American League for the most key categories: Earned Run Average (ERA: 3.57, good for 9th), Walks+Hits/Innings Pitched (WHIP: 1.21, good for 3rd), and Batting Average Against (BAA: .241, good for 5th). With one of the best pitching staffs in the American League, it is baffling that the Mariners went on this horrible streak.
It all came down to the offense though. Over the course of the 17 losses, the Mariners offense collected 128 hits in a total of 587 at bats, an awful .218 batting average. They scored more than 3 runs just 5 times, and had 8 or more strikeouts in 11 of the 17 games. No single batter exemplified the peril of the Mariners offense than classic leadoff hitter Ichiro Suzuki. A career .327 hitter, Ichiro went 15 for 71 during the losing streak, a .211 average. When the leadoff hitter cannot set the tone for the game, or provide the spark to start an inning, the team suffers as a whole. This isn’t to say that Ichiro is to blame for the Mariners offense, but it doesn’t help the team’s cause when their best hitter bats .211 over a three week span.
The most amazing stat though: the Mariners were 43-43 before losing 17 straight. They were a .500 baseball team in the middle of a pennant race and with the July 31 trade deadline approaching! It is truly remarkable what a three week stretch of baseball can do. As of July 31, the Mariners sat 14.5 games behind the Rangers for first place with basically no chance to make the playoffs.
All stats and information from ESPN.com, video from SI.com