To lose a game anytime a sweep is on the line always seems to leave a team feeling a little flat, and that was the case Sunday afternoon in the visiting clubhouse.
The Texas Rangers saw their nemesis, Kyle Seager, beat them with the bat again, and an emerging nemesis, Hisashi Iwakuma, quieted their bats in a 5-1 loss as the Seattle Mariners avoided a lost weekend.
But the Rangers boarded their charter flight for division-leading Oakland feeling good about themselves after two wins in the three-game series.
They should. They saw at Safeco Field the elements that could help them remain viable contenders for the postseason, with that second wild-card spot well within reach, or at least keep them from becoming also-rans before the All-Star break.
“We’ve just got to continue to prove to ourselves that we can continue to play consistent baseball,” manager Ron Washington said. “Just go out there and play our game, pitch and catch the ball. When we have outs to be gotten, get them. When an opportunity presents itself for us to score some runs, pick the majority of them up. We’ll be fine.”
The key element is the starting rotation, which performed admirably against the Mariners. Granted, the Mariners’ lineup isn’t exactly loaded and their ballpark isn’t exactly hitter-friendly, but four runs in 181/3 innings wasn’t just the result of bad hitting and park factors.
Nick Martinez (1-4) took a tough-luck loss despite allowing only two runs in six innings. That performance came only six days after Cleveland punished Martinez for eight runs in two innings.
Nick Tepesch had the best start of his career Friday. Joe Saunders was competitive Saturday for a fourth straight start since coming off the disabled list.
Colby Lewis is up Monday to open the three-game series at Oakland. He’s one of the four rotation question marks. The other three had some answers against the Mariners after watching staff ace Yu Darvish toss the first complete-game shutout of his career Wednesday.
“It’s contagious,” Martinez said. “When one of us does well, the other ones just kind of seem to fall in place. Unfortunately, it happens in losses, too. We didn’t get the win today, but I felt like we’ve been battling.”
Martinez had to battle throughout his six innings. The Mariners’ leadoff man reached four times, and they had at least one base runner in the first five innings.
They finally got up to Martinez in the fifth, which started with an Endy Chavez single and included a one-out walk to Robinson Cano. Seager, who had already collected two hits, roped a double into the right-field corner to erase a 1-0 lead the Rangers had taken in the second inning on Brad Snyder’s first career major league homer.
Seager came through again in the eighth with a carbon copy of his earlier double to make it 3-1. Seattle would add two more in the inning, all charged to inconsistent left-hander Robbie Ross, as Iwakuma improved to 5-1 in his past eight starts against the Rangers.
Remarkably, at least after watching him against the Rangers, Seager is batting only .259 overall this season. But he’s batting .396 against the Rangers — .226 against all others — and has collected 12 of his 42 RBIs against them.
Martinez regretted how he approach Seager in the fifth.
“I probably should have pitched around him,” Martinez said.
Maybe, but Martinez had done well to that point limiting damage. He could command all of pitches, something that had been missing over his previous three starts, and he was on the attack more with his fastball.
It was a step forward for Martinez, just as the series was a step forward for the rotation. The starters can’t take any steps backward if the Rangers want to stay afloat in spite of all the injuries they have been dealt.
“We’ll get better before the year is over,” Washington said. “We’ll get better as it progresses.”