SEATTLE — Robinson Cano was only supposed to hear the jeers and boos cascading from the spectators when he was playing on the road.
Hearing them at Safeco Field after strikeouts and weak grounders was not envisioned when he signed a $240 million, 10-year contract with the Seattle Mariners.
“I always stay positive and every at bat for me is a different one. I’m not going to overthink,” Cano said. “I haven’t done my job lately. Just go game by game and play hard every single day.”
Cano’s unexpected struggles at the plate are just the tip of one of the biggest underachievers in baseball to date. Picked by many observers to be a playoff-bound club thanks to Cano and the addition of Nelson Cruz, the Mariners’ 2-9 homestand left them seven games under .500 at 25-32, the second-worst record in the American League.
Seattle became just the fourth team in major league history to score no more than three runs during any game of a homestand of 10 games or longer, following the 1913 Chicago White Sox, 1968 Houston Astros and 2010 Mariners. The three prior teams had only 10 games to fail in, according to STATS.
If 90 victories was the benchmark for the Mariners following an 87-win season that left them one victory shy of a postseason tiebreaker game, the ugly first two months has left Seattle needing to win at a .619 clip the rest of the way to reach that mark.
It’s certainly possible. But nothing the Mariners have shown lately, highlighted by an offense unable to get clutch hits, makes it appear probable.
“The focus is always there to win games. With runners in scoring position is where we need to tighten it up,” Cruz said. “We get all our hits ... but when it matters the most to drive in runs we don’t get it done.”
Cano’s .239 batting average is the second-lowest of his career to this point of a season.
Cano’s .278 on-base percentage and .320 slugging are down 100 points from this time last year and his poorest output through 57 games other than 2008 with the Yankees when Cano was hitting .216 with four homers and 19 RBIs. He has only two home runs this season and is batting .188 with one extra base hit in his last 20 games.
Even more alarming for Cano are the pitches he’s chasing outside the strike zone and the lack of solid contact. Cano has 40 strikeouts and is on pace for a career-high 113.
Cruz has done more than his part for Seattle’s offense, leading the AL in home runs with 18 and hitting .329.
“Guys that are supposed to perform have to perform,” manager Llloyd McClendon said. “The fact is if Robbie Cano, Cruz and (Kyle) Seager don’t hit, then we’re not going to win. And if they continue not to hit, then you’ll be talking to someone else. I’ll be driving a garbage truck. That’s just the way it goes.”
Aside from Cruz, there’s been little consistency, adding to the frustration. When the offense was good early, the starting pitching aside from Felix Hernandez was shaky. Lately, when the pitching has been good, the offense has floundered.
And a bullpen that was the best in baseball a season ago hasn’t come close to matching the efficiency of 2014, capped by the roller-coaster ninth innings from closer Fernando Rodney.
McClendon continues to say he likes his club and believes Seattle will come out of this funk.
“This is a business of results and positive results only. You can talk about expectations or what a player should do or what we know what he can do, but the bottom line is you’ve got to get it done,” he said. “If we don’t get it done, there will be changes, absolutely. It’s the nature of the business.”