Six in a row -- now what for M's?

This has now become the worst possible scenario for everyone involved with the Mariners -- from the front office on down to the fans.

The M's just put the finishing touches on their sixth straight defeat -- dropping them from first place to last place in less than a week -- and it wasn't exactly the kind of performance that inspires confidence that things are going to get any better anytime soon. Another inept performance from a starting pitcher. Another misearable showing by the offense, which didn't even put together the too-little-too-late rally that has inflated its statistics as of late.

How bad have the starters been? In this six-game losing streak, every starter has started one game except Jeff Weaver, who started two. Only Jarrod Washburn even came close to mustering a "quality start," giving up four runs only after the bullpen move that shall not be named. All told, the revamped starting rotation compiled a whopping 10.17 ERA.

Say what you will about the offense -- and it has been putrid, late-inning "comebacks" be darned -- but hitting against a starter with the confidence of a lead vs. hitting against a starter in a tight game can make life difficult on hitters.

I suppose you could make the same argument in reverse, that the hitters' futility (well documented here before Saturday's game by Times writer Geoff Baker) is putting undue stress on the pitchers, but it's my belief that it's a pitcher's job to give his team a chance to win -- not the other way around. In a game where hitters fail more than seven out of every 10 times they come to the plate, sometimes it takes time to get things rolling. Pitchers must give their hitters a chance to win a game for them.

The scary part for the M's? They're going to be trying to break this losing streak likely by sending Cha Seung Baek to the hill on Monday (in Arlington) in lieu of potential streak stopper Felix Hernandez, who's on the shelf for at least one start. Yes, Baek is pitching well at AAA and was 2-0 with a 1.32 ERA in a pair of late season starts against the Rangers, but do you really want to pin your hopes of getting this streak stopped on a guy who's basically just got six meaningless starts at the end of last year to his resume?

About the only thing I couldn't complain too much about was, believe it or not, the managing of Mike Hargrove -- who seems to sense the urgency of the situation, even if his players don't.

Pinch hitting Ben Broussard late in the game Saturday was a great move -- this blogger would love to see him in the line-up occasionally against more righties to add some sock. His flexible use of the bullpen Saturday (yanking Mateo in favor of Eric O'Flaherty, who turned in a strong two-inning stint, and bringing in Putz in the eighth to keep the team at a one-run deficit) also was a step in the right direction.

And yanking Jeff Weaver after just 3 innings, 3 runs and 68 pitches on Sunday?

"He'd given up seven hits and three runs in three innings and I didn't see it getting any better,'' Hargrove said. "And the way we've been going and scoring runs late, I just didn't want to put the ballclub in the hole any more than we already were that early in the game.''

I love it. It sends a clear message to the team: Perform, or we'll find someone who can. I still don't trust that if this team was average that Hargrove could put it over the top, but I can't place much blame on him for what happened in Anaheim. That's all on his players.

Interestingly, Baker's reporting that there are rumors of an extension for Hargrove. Don't read too much into it -- Bob Melvin got an extension right before he got fired, and Baker's also reporting that if this current trend of losing continues, management won't be afraid to let some heads roll.

This is now an absolutely critical juncture. The team goes for two in Texas and two in Oakland, and if they lose three of four to end the road trip -- falling farther back in an AL West race that is still within reach -- I wouldn't be surprised to see Hargove and GM Bill Bavasi gone. Attendance has been dwindling to levels not seen in Safeco Field's history -- April or not -- and coming home to face the Royals with new leadership might be management's way to try and show fans that it's not going to stand by and watch the team lose.

Until then, well ... in Baek we trust.


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