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Out of right field: Mariners taking lumps while looking for diamonds

When Major League Baseball, in its infinite wisdom, expanded the playoffs this season – further gimmicking up an already gimmicky proposition to begin with – pundits theorized that teams needed only to hover around .500 in order to qualify for a postseason bid.

For a certain team that plays its home games in the Pacific Northwest, the sound of that was mighty appealing. You know, with that whole “longest postseason drought in the four major sports” thing going on.

And when the Seattle Mariners started the season 4-4 after their first eight games, including three in a row after beating the pesky Oakland A’s in the home opener at newly rebranded T-Mobile Park, things looked “pretty, pretty good,” as Larry David’s alter ego might say.

Why not dream? The starting rotation was looking surprisingly robust, Kyle Lewis looked like the reincarnation of Mike Cameron, and J.P. Crawford and Evan White were gobbling up every grounder and bad hop they could possibly get to.

Since then?

Whoa. Talk about your proverbial dose of reality.

Tough sledding

It doesn’t get much realer than losing 15 of 19 games, including seven of nine to close a homestand. Total it all up and it’s tied with the Los Angeles Angels for the second-worst record in the bigs, ahead of only six-win Pittsburgh (woof).

We knew going into this thing the M’s were going to have growing pains this year. Heck, we’re only into – checks calendar – year 17 of general manager Jerry DiPoto’s five-year “step-back” plan.

That’s not quite fair to Jerry, but that’s why he gets paid the big bucks.

Dipoto has managed to catapult the farm system into the top five of the game in very short order, and the roster is dotted with youngsters that could one day – maybe not soon, but soon-ish – actually help the M’s actually break that postseason drought.

But for now? Yikes.

Rough series

After all, if this was a normal season, White would probably be flashing the leather and learning to lay off sliders in Tacoma this season instead of being depended upon in the middle of the big league lineup.

Thankfully for all, skipper Scott Servais gave White the day off on Thursday so he didn’t have to be befuddled by Clayton Kershaw, who seems to have his health issues behind him after twirling an 11-strikeout gem in the Dodgers 6-1 win over Yusei Kikuchi, who couldn’t make it through the fourth.

Other than the comedy stylings of the Brothers Seager, that series didn’t have much for the M’s to look forward to or look back upon. The Mariners lost close ones and not-so-close ones, high-scoring ones and low-scoring ones – a veritable smorgasbord of losing baseball.

Still raking

But hey, at least there’s still Lewis.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that if the Mariners learn only one thing in this 60-game pandemic experiment, and that one thing happens to be that Lewis really does belong at the major league level and can become a dependable, every-day centerfielder for this team, then the whole trouble might actually be worth it.

In all honestly, it probably isn’t worth playing in an unabated pandemic and risking the health of all the players, coaches, trainers, administrators, team personnel, media, parking attendants, grounds crew and security, but you know what I mean.

(As an aside, earlier this week MLB made it a whole TWO DAYS with all 30 teams playing before a player and coach on the New York Mets tested positive, forcing more cancellations. But man, that sweet, sweet postseason money is sure going to look good lining the wallets of the billionaire owners.)

Lewis’ success thus far is a triumph not only of performance, but of perseverance and dedication, both of the athlete and of the organization. Lewis is just 25, but he’s battled as much in his short time as a pro as anyone – through devastating injury, grueling rehab and developmental struggles along the way.

He always had the talent, but he became a better hitter overall after the injury robbed him of some of the stuff he had out of the box. He’s one to root for.

Saying goodbye

And we would be remiss if this column passed over the opportunity to pour one out for the recently departed Daniel Vogelbach. The burly slugger, widely praised for his clubhouse demeanor, was designated for assignment on Wednesday after going 5 for 53 (.094/.250/.476) in 18 games.

Vogey, who was a surprise All-Star last season, was never the same after the break last year and didn’t rediscover the magic this season. Granted, the disjointed nature of things did him no favors, but everyone had to deal with the same issues.

Vogey brings nothing to the field but his bat, and if he isn’t hitting, he isn’t helping.

Still, you can’t help pull for a guy listed at 6-foot, 270, and hopefully he ends up somewhere where he can get his swing straightened out.

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