So, how do you follow a 4.1-inning, nine-run (four earned) clunker on the mound?
Well, if you’re Joe Saunders, you do it with an arguably worse performance in your next turn. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that’s probably not what the Seattle Mariners were hoping to see out of their veteran, but at this point, they may want to temper their expectations.
Remember that Saunders — you know, the steady southpaw with mediocre stuff who could at least eat innings, even if he didn’t always keep his team in the game?
Yeah, that’s not this guy. Instead, all the M’s got on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Rays was a 32-year-old who earned little more than an early trip to the showers, as he was unable to get out of the fifth inning once more, finishing with 4.1 frames of five-run (all earned this time), seven-hit ball that included a trio of walks and a goose egg in the strikeout category.
So what? All pitchers go through slumps, right?
Sure, though what the lefty has shown on the mound is hardly a recent occurrence. Since surging into the All-Star break on an eye-opening hot streak of eight quality starts in nine outings, Saunders has been a mess … to put it nicely.
In his last six outings, the veteran has completed six full innings just once, and has allowed at least four earned runs in four of them. That’s not exactly a good combination, and his 7.28/2.12 ERA/WHIP over his last 29.2 IP paints a pretty accurate picture of just exactly what’s wrong these days.
In short, it’s everything. From his league-worst .360 post-break BAA (which is to say that the average batter is essentially hitting like Miguel Cabrera against him), to a walk rate that has spiked to 4.25 BB/9 from 2.59 in the first half, all the way to the fact that he has an incredible .398 BABIP despite allowing line drives at just 18 percent in the second half … neither luck nor skill are doing him any favours.
And though this slump hasn’t exactly sank his overall numbers in 2013 just yet, it’s probably fair to say that he’s going to be looking at a bit of a pay cut when it comes time to find another job in the bigs for 2014.
In fact, at this rate, he might have his work cut out for him just to do the latter.