SEATTLE — The Chicago Cubs’ nightmare bullpen almost delivered another dream scenario to the Seattle Mariners.
The Cubs sent middling reliever after middling reliever to the mound in Sunday’s late afternoon heat.
Home run, Raul Ibañez. Two-run homer, Kyle Seager. An afternoon snoozer turned taut, nearly close enough to catch the attention of those in the beer garden.
But no tie, no extra innings, no walk-off Sunday. The Mariners’ rally from a six-run deficit was halted in the ninth when Cubs closer Kevin Gregg zipped through a 1-2-3 inning.
The 7-6 Chicago victory gave the Cubs a 2-1 series win. Worse, it ended the Mariners’ eight-game homestand with a 3-5 record.
Stepping just past the midway point of the season, the Mariners are 35-47. The non-waiver trade deadline is a month away (July 31), making player movement a possibility. Almost all the reinforcements to try to resuscitate a stagnant offense have been summoned, yet the Mariners are still last in runs scored in the American League.
The muted offense is not the fault of Raul Ibañez. He hit his 19th homer of the season Sunday, tying his total from last season. He’s tied for ninth in Major League Baseball in homers. Ibañez hit a career-high 34 homers with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009. His high with the Mariners was 33 in 2006.
“With our issues with runners-in-scoring position … you look at what he does and how he handles certain situations, it’s right there in front of you to watch and learn from,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
Ibañez said he made some swing alterations right before the trip to New York in mid-May. Since May 10, he has hit 17 home runs.
“Swinging with your body together instead of in two parts, making it (a) one-part swing,” Ibañez said of the fix.
Ibañez, like the rest of the club, is in pursuit of an offensive solution for the early innings. Ibañez homered in the eighth inning off Shawn Camp, who has a 7.04 ERA. Seager followed two batters later, also off Camp, with his 11th homer.
Then reliever Hector Rondon, whose ERA is 6.08, had two batters on with one out before he retired Mike Zunino and Endy Chavez to end the threat.
“This team, for whatever reason, we do the hard part well, which is we score late in the game,” Ibañez said.
It did little against Cubs starter Edwin Jackson, who pitched six innings and allowed three earned runs. The Mariners had a leadoff double in the first, yet never moved Chavez beyond third base.
Brad Miller picked up his first big league hit with a leadoff double in the fifth. He scored, though Seattle could not produce a big inning.
Jason Bay homered in the seventh. In the eighth, the homers from Ibañez and Seager cut the Cubs’ lead to 7-6. Zunino, hitting for Henry Blanco with two on and one out, popped out foul. Chavez grounded out to end the inning.
Seattle found itself distanced from the Cubs because Jeremy Bonderman allowed six runs – four earned – in 3ª innings. He couldn’t find success.
“No excuses,” Bonderman said of his outing. “It sucked.”
Tom Wilhelmsen threw a clean ninth inning. He’s retired 11 consecutive batters and appears on the road to his former crisp self.
The Mariners appear too far in arrears for it to matter.
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