Seattle looks for quick start to open second half of season

SEATTLE (AP) The Seattle Mariners were expected to be playoff contenders at the start of the season. They open the second half seven games under .500.

Short of a huge turnaround after the All-Star break, the Mariners will join the ranks of past Seattle teams that flopped when expected to be in the postseason picture.

”We haven’t really gotten on a streak, haven’t gotten on a roll,” third baseman Kyle Seager said. ”We’ll win a game, lose a game, win a game, lose a game. It’s hard to make up ground that way.”

Seattle is among the most disappointing teams in the American League during the first half of the season. Instead of being on pace to end the second-longest playoff drought in baseball, the Mariners are 41-48 and don’t have a win streak longer than four games.

Despite the addition of Nelson Cruz, Seattle is the worst hitting team in the AL. Robinson Cano is having an off-year. He’s been bothered by stomach issues dating back to last summer, he says, and is hitting .251 with just six homers and 30 RBIs. He’s struck out 64 times this season – last year he fanned 68 times.

”It’s not what we were expecting. You kind of forget how the year has gone and just try and turn it around in the second half,” Cano said. ”You just have to keep fighting. We have great talent. We’ve got guys that know how to play the game. We’ve just got to keep fighting.”

For manager Lloyd McClendon, his biggest issue is not with the offense or erratic starting rotation, but with the bullpen. Last year, the relievers were the best in baseball, and locked down games after the sixth or seventh innings. Closer Fernando Rodney is having a rough time, and he’s no longer in the same role as a year ago.

”You can talk about your offense, but the offense last year was bad,” McClendon began. ”But our bullpen was outstanding and we won games because of our bullpen. That’s been our biggest, in my opinion, the biggest disappointment to date, is right-handers we’ve had to shift in and out of our bullpen to try to bridge the gap to win games.”

Any optimism for the second half is centered on the starting rotation. Felix Hernandez is again one of the top pitchers in the AL with 11 wins. Young righty Taijuan Walker overcame problems in the first month to become more dominant in May and June. Lefty Mike Montgomery has been a pleasant surprise coming up from the minors. And Hisashi Iwakuma is coming off eight shutout innings in his second start since returning from the disabled list.

Seattle opens the second half with a 13-game stretch – seven on the road against the Yankees and Detroit, before returning home for six against Toronto and Arizona.

McClendon understands urgency of strong start to the second half. He ripped his team after a sloppy and uninspired effort to close out the first half in a 10-3 loss to the AL West division-leading Angels.

”We’ve got to start stringing together wins and that’s the message I’m going to give my club starting the second half,” McClendon said. ”Listen, I’ve given my club a lot of string and allowed them to do a lot of things but it is not working. We’re going to change things.”