SEATTLE — Robbie Ray has been on good teams before, and bad ones, too. He’s been in down-to-the-wire pennant chases and also labored through the dog days with nothing to play for but pride. He’s been in young clubhouses and others full of veterans.
But he’s never quite been in this spot — the veteran ace on a young team, shouldering the weight of an entire organization’s ambitions and a starved fan base salivating over a playoff drought pushing two decades. So, after the Mariners were blanked in a 5-0 loss on Tuesday night at T-Mobile Park and manager Scott Servais outrightly said that the club was pressing, the soft-spoken Ray’s words weighed heavy.
“For me, we’ve just got to stop looking at the scoreboard,” said Ray, who surrendered two runs over 5 2/3 innings. “If it was my choice, we’d turn that thing off, because we need to play our brand of baseball. We need to go out every day and try to win that day.
“We need to stop worrying about what other people in the league are doing — what Baltimore is doing, what Tampa [Bay] is doing, what Toronto is doing. We need to play Mariners baseball, and I think for me, that should be our main focus every day. It doesn’t matter if Baltimore loses, it doesn’t matter if Tampa loses or wins. What are the Mariners doing today? We’re going to win every pitch.”
While seemingly nothing has gone right for the Mariners over the past week and a half, the club nonetheless found itself inching closer to the postseason when the dust settled on Tuesday.
Despite Seattle’s defeat, Baltimore’s loss in Boston earlier in the evening kept the Mariners’ cushion at 3 1/2 games (plus a tiebreaker) over the Orioles, the first team on the outside looking in, meaning that Seattle could still clinch a playoff berth as soon as Friday.
Magic number: 5 (postseason berth)
Standings update: 83-70 (third AL Wild Card spot)
Games remaining: 9
That said, their chances at hosting the AL Wild Card Series are fading fast. With the opportunity to pull within two games of the No. 4-seeded Blue Jays — who lost to the Yankees and still holds the bid to host — the Mariners were shut out for just the second time since June 19, when they famously turned their season around, and against a Rangers team that they’d dominated with 12 wins in 16 meetings this season entering the series.
Asked if it’s easier said than done to flush the pressure with a younger team, Ray said: “It’s definitely difficult, but you’ve just got to keep preaching: ‘We’ve just got to play our ball.’ We can’t focus on the outside noise, what everybody else is doing around us. We’ve got to play our brand of baseball, and we’ve got to get back to that.”
In contrast to their deflating loss one game prior, in which they blew a nine-run lead in Kansas City, the Mariners on Tuesday struggled to cash in. They had 10 baserunners via five hits (all singles) and five walks, but they only reached scoring position three times, going a combined 0-for-7 in those moments while stranding nine total baserunners.
It was all too familiar to their early-season struggles, when they led MLB with 501 stranded baserunners (7.4 per game) through June 19.
“We’re in a funk right now,” Servais said. “It is not timely. Certainly, at this time of year, you want to be playing your best baseball. We are not right now, but I do know that it can turn on a dime.”
On a night like this, Julio Rodríguez’s absence looms larger than Mount Rainier over the Puget Sound region. But the star rookie, who will ramp up baseball activity this week, won’t be back from a lower back strain until Monday at the earliest. Seattle is 73-56 when the AL Rookie of the Year Award favorite plays, and now 10-14 when he doesn’t.
Eugenio Suárez was activated from the 10-day injured list with the hope of providing the lineup with an immediate jolt, but he struck out thrice, including a three-pitch punchout in the fourth that featured two awkward check-swings, illustrating that his return to a DH-exclusive role following a fractured right index finger might not be seamless. Cal Raleigh continues to battle through a sore left thumb that on some nights, feels better than others.
Diego Castillo surrendering a three-run homer to Josh Jung — who also had a solo homer and an RBI single against Ray to account for all five of Texas’ runs — in the eighth added a more sour finish to a tough night, but with Seattle’s lack of offense, it didn’t have much impact on the outcome. The Mariners have now lost eight of their past 11 games, and they’ve been held to one run or fewer six times over that span.
“We didn’t have a good ballgame,” Servais said. “There’s no way to sugarcoat it. … I keep saying that we’ve got to get back to playing like we played earlier in the year, and it’s all in there. It’s in the clubhouse. We need to kind of take a deep breath here, relax a little bit, try to go out and play a good ballgame and have fun again.”