Mariner managers under the gun as painful losses continue

Jun 14, 2013

The Mariners are on the road for the next seven games. They're playing the A's in Oakland this weekend.

The team keeps finding more painful ways to lose. And KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says the fans end up hurt the most.


More fans losing faith

Many fans are finding it too painful to come to the games anymore. Total attendance for the three-game series against the Astros this week was about 37,000 people. "That's like the old Kingdome numbers in the late 70s," Art said. "Fans have really been asked to give way too much emotionally."

The Mariners had a 1-0 lead going into the ninth inning Wednesday night against the Astros. Then closer Tom Wilhemsen allowed 5 runs before being pulled. When it was all over, the Astros - arguably the worst team in baseball - had rallied to win 6-1.

"It was just another astonishing way to lose a game that just completely pulls apart the emotional bond that most fans have for a team," Art said.

Veterans hurting, young players struggling

The Mariners are very vulnerable right now. They don't have much depth to their roster. And Art says things are getting worse.

"You've got older veterans who are being asked to play too many games consecutively," he said. " And they become either injured, or they play injured, or they don't play well. Coupled with the failure to get enough young people up to replace them."

The veterans have been somewhat impressive, given their age and injuries: 41-year-old Raul Ibanez has hit 13 home runs. 34-year-old Jason Bay and 31-year-old Michael Morse also have done reasonably well.

"But they get hurt," Art said. "And the vulnerability is just killing the Mariners because there have been young people like Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak, Brandon Maurer - all of those guys have been counted upon at the start of the season who've subsequently been sent down to Triple-A Tacoma."

"So what's left is a mish-mash that you can't count on from game to game. You don't know what you're getting," he said. "And, suddenly now, the Mariners are looking at a spot that seemed locked down. The closer position is completely unstable and so now they have to put a patch there. And there's no reasonable alternative to close besides Wilhelmsen."

Managers' jobs on the line

The contracts are up this year for Mariners Manager Eric Wedge and General Manager Jack Zduriencik.

"That's exactly the pressure that you don't want in this sort of situation," Art said. "These guys are insecure about their job futures so they're going to try to make moves to win games now. Which is okay, if you haven't had the history of guys coming up too early and losing confidence at the Major League level."

Two bright spots

The two most recent call ups from Triple-A Tacoma, Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino, look good.

"Nick Franklin seems to be pressure-proof so far," Art said. "He's hitting .300 and playing a very good second base."

Then, Wednesday night, the Mariners brought up Mike Zunino, the heralded catcher who becomes the first player in the Major Leagues out of the 2012 draft class to make it to the big time. Art is impressed. "He's got a fine glove, his footwork is excellent, and he threw a runner out at second by such a large margin, the runner didn't even slide," he said.

Not enough

But the bad keeps outweighing the good.

"All that good stuff - along with Jeremy Bonderman's three-hit shutout pitching - was lost in the cavalcade of dreck that befell the Mariners on Wednesday night," Art said. "They just have no solutions except to play the next game and hope something goes right. Which, after 10 years of losing, Mariner fans aren't really expecting."

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.