Mariners’ magic number gets lower despite their continuing struggles vs. Rangers

Here’s the thing about stretches of bad baseball. You can change the venue. You can change the opponent. You can even change the pregame routine, walk-up songs, the uniforms or any superstition that might seem relevant.

But the outcome will only change two ways — execute and perform better or the team you are playing somehow finds a way to play worse.

The belief, or at least the hope, that a Monday free without a game, particularly a game lost, and the energy of the final homestand of the 2022 season might reinvigorate the Mariners’ level of performance was not realized on Tuesday night at T- Mobile Park.

Instead, the largely lackluster showing on the previous road trip, which included a disappointing 3-7 record and inconsistencies in every facet of the game followed them home.

After scoring 12 runs in a loss on Sunday, the Mariners were held scoreless for the 12thTh time this season. They were limited to just five hits — all singles — by a collection of Rangers relievers making a bullpen start in a frustrating 5-0 loss to Texas.

Meanwhile, the Mariners pitching staff had no answer for Rangers rookie third baseman Josh Jung, a top prospect who has battled injuries much of the season. Jung drove in all five of Texas’ runs, including a backbreaking three-run homer off Diego Castillo in the eighth inning to remove any hope of a Mariners comeback victory. Castillo tossed a cement-mixer slider that Jung hammered into deep left-center.

“This was not the way I was hoping we would start the homestand for sure with the off day yesterday, but it happened,” manager Scott Servais said.

Even with the loss, the Mariners (83-70) still managed to trim their magic number for a postseason berth down to five games by no actions of their own. The Orioles’ last-ditch attempt at a rally, which included getting the tying run to the plate in the top of the ninth inning, fell short at Fenway Park. Baltimore lost 13-9 to the Red Sox, allowing the Mariners to remain 3.5 games ahead for the third wild-card spot.

The Blue Jays (87-68) also lost and remained three games up on Seattle for the first wild-card spot. The Rays (85-69) occupy the second wild-card spot, moving 1.5 games behind Toronto and 1.5 games ahead of the Mariners.

“We didn’t have a good ballgame,” Servais said. “There’s no way to sugarcoat it. We didn’t do anything offensively. I keep saying we’re gonna get back to playing like we played earlier in the year and it’s all in there, it’s in that clubhouse.”

The Mariners aren’t exactly charging into their first potential postseason appearance since 2001 despite it being set up for them to not only clinch it early, but also make a run at the first wild-card spot, which would mean a three-game series at T-Mobile Park. Their final 20 games of the season are against teams with losing records — the Angels, A’s, Rangers and Tigers. Now 11 games into that stretch, they have a 3-8 record.

“We need to kind of take a deep breath here, relax a little bit, try to go out and play a good ball game and have fun again,” Servais said. “Because as much as you want to grind through this game and everyone sees how close we are to reaching a goal, you’ve still got to play the game and you’ve got to have fun. We are not having a lot of fun right now, last couple days have been pretty rough.”

Seattle starter Robbie Ray, who gave the Mariners a winnable outing, had ideas on how to make it change.

“We’ve just got to stop looking at the (out of town) scoreboard,” Ray said. “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.”

Scoreboard watching is prevalent this time of the season, particularly with the back-and-forth changes in the wild-card race. MLB loves it because fans eat it up and live and die on every pitch of multiple games at once. But Ray believes it’s been a distraction for the players.

“We need to stop worrying about what other people in the league are doing, what Baltimore’s doing, what Tampa is doing, what Toronto is doing,” he said. “We need to play Mariners baseball. 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.”

“Control what you can control” is a mantra often used in baseball for a player’s approach to their individual performance, but it can also manifest in the team philosophy, particularly one with minimal postseason experience.

“We can’t control what other teams do,” Ray said. “We need to just control what we can. We can control our game, our at-bats, our pitches, everything in our game. I feel like with a young team, it’s definitely difficult but you just gotta keep preaching it. We can’t focus on the outside noise and what everyone else is doing around us. We’ve got to play our brand of baseball and we’ve got to get back to that.”

Even with the return of Eugenio Suarez to the lineup after a stint on the injured list with a broken finger, the Mariners offense didn’t really threaten to score despite getting nine runners on base, aided by five walks from Rangers pitchers. Seattle went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.

The reliever combination of starter Jesus Tinoco, a closer at Triple-A this season, Tony Miller, Denis Santana, Matt Moore, Jonathan Hernandez and Jose Leclerc stymied Seattle hitters.

Making sense 31St at the beginning of the season, Ray gave the Mariners an outing good enough for a victory. He pitched into the sixth inning, giving up two runs on six hits with two walks and eight strikeouts.

His first run allowed came in the second inning when Jung crushed a 3-2 fastball up in the strike zone. The mammoth blast landed in the upper deck of the left field for a 1-0 lead.

Despite his best efforts, Ray couldn’t quite finish a taking sixth inning that saw him allow a run while throwing 33 pitches with the Rangers fouling off 15.

A leadoff single from Marcus Semien started his problems. After striking out Corey Seager, Ray gave up a single to Nathaniel Lowe that put runners on the corners with one out. Ray came back to get Adolis Garcia to pop out to shallow right field in an 11-pitch battle, not allowing Semien to tag up and score.

But that third out never came. Jung got him again with a bloop single to right field that allowed Semien to trot home. Ray then walked Sam Huff to load the bases that ended his outing.

Penn Murphy entered and immediately ended the inning, retiring Leody Taveras with a ground out to second.

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