Slow start troubles talented Mariners

At 6-13, `we've got to get our act together now!'

April 27, 2004|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Seattle Mariners second baseman Bret Boone pondered the most convenient excuse for his team's dismal start - the notion that it is too early to draw any conclusions from the worst record in the American League - and knocked the cover off it.

"You have to get to the point where you stop saying that," said Boone. "It's not going to be early forever."

If that last sentence sounded a bit like a Yogi Berra-ism, it still drew nods throughout the Mariners' clubhouse.

This is, after all, largely the same team that tied an American League record with 116 regular-season victories in 2001 and has averaged 98 victories over the past four seasons.

The Mariners arrived in Baltimore with six victories in their first 19 games, still smarting from the spanking they took in Texas over the weekend. Maybe last night's rainout was a blessing after five straight losses, but manager Bob Melvin didn't look at it that way.

"We want to get out there and win some games," he said.

Theories about his team's early-season funk are like elbows - everybody's got one.

They're too old.

They've lost a step on defense.

They didn't do enough during the offseason.

They have let the rest of the American League West pass them by.

Melvin doesn't buy any of it.

"It's everything," he said. "Offensively, we're not doing very well, and we're not pitching up to par. Just look at the statistics."

Sure enough, the stat sheet pretty much sums it up. The Mariners have scored 77 runs in their first 19 games. Only the Tampa Bay Devil Rays - with 67 - are looking up at them.

No one is looking up at their pitching staff, which ranks last in the American League (and 28th overall) with a 5.43 combined ERA. They do rank first in the league in fielding percentage, but even that is a bit deceptive, because they stand 12th in total chances.

"This is the slowest start that we've gotten off to while I've been here," said veteran pitcher Jamie Moyer, who arrived in 1996. "It's not for lack of trying. When we pitch well, we don't score runs, and when we score runs, we don't pitch well.

"The environment and the atmosphere is still good. I don't think there is a sense of panic. We just got through playing in our division. We haven't played well, and we're four or five games out. For playing as poorly as we have, it could be a lot worse."

Still, there is a sense of urgency that has developed over the past week, particularly during a three-game sweep in Texas during which the surprising Rangers averaged nine runs.

"We've got to get our act together now!" Boone said. "We started slow and our first road trip was awful, but we won a series against Texas and beat Oakland two out of three and it looked like things were turning around.

"You look at the talent in this room, we're a lot better team than this, but on paper, this is where we are. Look at the Yankees. Sometimes, real good teams go through real bad times."

The Mariners got off to fast starts the past two seasons, only to lose momentum during the summer and come up just short of reaching the postseason. They were 26 games over .500 last June 18, only to go 45-47 the rest of the way.

Perhaps it is an age thing, but there is also the issue of team chemistry. The Mariners, who proved in 2001 that you don't need superstars to be the winningest team in the majors, let center fielder Mike Cameron get away over the winter and traded away infielder Carlos Guillen. They added front-line closer Eddie Guardado and veteran position players Scott Spiezio, Rich Aurilia and Raul Ibanez, which should have been enough to compensate for the key departures.

"It's disconcerting to see some guys go," said Moyer, "but the acquisitions we did make, they are proven players - some with playoff experience and World Series experience."

Melvin agrees.

"These are veteran guys," he said. "I don't think they need an adjustment period. We're just struggling. Look at the numbers."

It isn't time to panic, but - as Boone so clearly stated - it is time to turn things around if the Mariners hope to stay within reach of the improved Anaheim Angels and the pitching-rich Athletics, not to mention the good-hitting Rangers lineup that pounded them all weekend.

"He [Boone] is 100 percent right," Melvin said. "You go 6-13 in the middle of the season, it's a bad stretch. You go 6-13 at the start of the season, it's a serious concern. We can't just say it's going to turn around. We have to make it turn around."

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