They did it again. Or, perhaps more appropriately, they didn't do it again.
The Seattle Mariners ended the pre-All-Star Break portion of their 2012 schedule with their fourth extra-inning game in their last seven contests as the offense -- again -- couldn't manage to get anything going against Bartolo Colon and the Oakland Athletics in a game not at Safeco Field and not in cold weather. One run on nine hits (seven singles) is all the M's could scrounge together in their 49 plate appearances and yet another brilliant start by Felix Hernandez was wasted.
Sound a little too familiar? Odds are that Eric Wedge agrees with you. Odds are that changes are coming. Changes to the 25-man roster before the club plays again and perhaps even changes to personnel on the 40-man roster before the non-waiver trade deadline.
The most likely players headed down to the minor leagues to try and get some pep back in their step (and their swing) include one or all of the young trio of M's hitters that are supposed to be the club's offensive core as it looks to the future: first baseman Justin Smoak, second baseman Dustin Ackley and designated hitter Jesus Montero.
Smoak had his OPS up to a season best .709 back on June 4th, but since then the 25-year-old switch-hitter has hit just .139/.207/.198 in 27 games and time and again falls victim to the same pitching pattern in getting himself out -- swinging at off-speed pitches down and out of the zone. It is a weakness that is starting to look more and more like something that perhaps Smoak and the Mariners don't have the ability to correct. And now well over 1,000 at bats into his big league career, the question has to be asked if Smoak is really struggling at all or if his career line of .220/.302/.370 is a reflection of his true abilities.
Ackley had two hits yesterday in his second game back in the leadoff role, but he still has just six hits in his last 39 at bats and is hitting just .233/.311/.325 through 82 games this season after hitting .273/.348/.417 in 90 games in 2011 as a rookie. He also has racked up 153 strikeouts in his 172 career games and the plate discipline that helped him to succeed in college and speed through Seattle's minor league system doesn't seem to be translating so well to the big leagues.
Montero has sat out the past few days after suffering a mild concussion from a foul ball off of his mask while catching, but his numbers don't look much better: just one RBI in his last 26 games while hitting .222/.245/.283 and striking out 26 times. Jesus had his OPS at .762 on May 1st. Its .657 now.
Certainly these three aren't the Mariners only problems on offense. Their starting shortstop owns a .187 average (.563 OPS) and is in the lineup almost every day and the club has the worst production in all of Major League Baseball from their DH: just a .192/.256/.289 slash from the third most potent offensive position league-wide (.259/.334/.437). But these three players represent the building blocks for the Mariners future. And as things stand right now, the Mariners can't build anything on this foundation.
Any demotions with any of these three players will likely be very temporary as there doesn't appear to be much help knocking down the doors in the minor leagues. The best performers in the system don't reside in Tacoma and they don't have the experience (or the 40-man roster spot) that justifies bringing them up to the big club. Tacoma has Mike Carp and Alex Liddi could come up to take a couple of spots, but there are reasons why they are in Triple-A now as they, too, have struggled to hit big league pitching. Outfielder Trayvon Robinson is on the 40-man, too, has recently returned to the Rainers' lineup after a minor injury and has hit well since a slow start to the '12 season. He's also a switch-hitter with some speed. Beyond those three players, there aren't many options to try and kick-start the M's sleeping offense.
Perhaps Chone Figgins is finally sent packing, be it in a trade for nothing with Seattle picking up 100% of his 2012 salary (and maybe more), or even from him being designated for assignment and the M's finally swallowing their pride and the remaining millions on his contract. Maybe that would send a message to the club that would encourage better play. Or maybe that message comes in the form of a trade. I think the club could probably get their hands on Russell Branyan -- hitting well in Triple-A for the Yankees -- once again for pretty cheap. It is possible that a bigger deal could be in the works, but anything of significance coming in on offense for Seattle likely means something of significance on the young pitching side going away.
Whatever the decisions are and whatever moves are made, the 2nd half for the Mariners has to go better for the first if these players, this Manager and this General Manager have plans of long-term careers in Seattle.