The AL West had a few surprises this season. The Oakland Athletics won (won!) the division. The Texas Rangers dominated and then faltered and were unable to survive a one-game playoff. The Angels had the greatest player on earth, as well as a whole host of superstars surrounding him, and failed to make the postseason. All that incredible, suspenseful, surprising stuff, and no mention of the Seattle Mariners. That is because the Seattle Mariners did not surprise anyone, they did exactly what was expected of them. They lost a lot of baseball games and they finished last in the division. The pitching was pretty decent, the fielding was above average, and the offense was abysmal. That’s how the Mariners roll. That’s how they’ve been rolling for quite some time. They should stop rolling. They should sit still. They should sit still and think about what they’ve done and how they could do better. Roll different.
Despite all the blah, of which there was plenty, there were a few major highlights that punctuated the Mariners season. Mostly pitching related. The bullpen broke out with a whole slew of young and interesting flame throwers. They should remain nails next season. In June, Kevin Millwood, Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen combined to throw a 6-man no-hitter against the Dodgers. Hits are bad, right? I think hits are bad for pitchers to give up so not allowing any is definitely a positive. On August 15th, Felix Hernandez threw an effing perfect game. I managed to be in attendance for the final outs. This was the Mariners most beloved, franchise player, accomplishing history in front of a home crowd. The team might not have been very good this season but that moment will never die. Part of me still doesn’t believe it actually happened, but it did.
The defense was quite good. Perhaps one of the five best units in all of baseball. A lot of the credit for this belongs to Brendan Ryan. He’s a lousy hitter, meaning he takes a lot of flack from local media and fans who only care about mashing taters, but Ryan is one of the best defensive shortstops I’ve ever watched play baseball. I urge you to track down his highlights. Maybe edit together of mix of them yourself with a sweet Three Doors Down song in the background. The guy makes impossible plays possible and extremely difficult plays look routine. And his facial hair is humorous.
The offense. Oh, the offense. It was the worst in the American League. Last in OPS, last in SLG, last in OBP. Last in Average and Hits and Runs. Only 4th last in Home Runs! If we’re looking for a bright spot, it might be that Michael Saunders showed flashes of above average hitting ability, but it’s really just John Jaso. The Rays castoff emerged as a legitimate righty masher, posting a 143 wRC+ and .394 OBP in limited time. He also showcased an uncanny ability a to generate production at opportune moments, submitting a number of huge hits and walk-offs throughout the season. The bad news is that none of the Mariners highly touted prospects and fast becoming former prospects showed any real promise. Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, and Justin Smoak all underperformed, contributing to a lot of doubt and uncertainty as to their future potential. Montero and Ackley still have some patience banked, but time is running out on Smoak. He was one of the least productive regulars in the entire league, and many were calling for his outright release at different points in the season. After a demotion to AAA and a reported tweak in mechanics, Smoak then returned to the Bigs and hit like an MVP during September. So you try and figure him out. He’ll probably ebb and flow and frustrate Mariners fans for years to come. Can’t wait.
Having an underwhelming roster means having underwhelming players leaving via free agency. Kevin Milwood, thanks for all the gritty and veteran memories. Hisashi Iwakuma turned out to be a rather serviceable starter, and with his one-year contract up there’s hope he’ll return to add some above-average depth to the rotation. Jason Vargas, a longtime beneficiary of Safeco’s pitcher friendly dimensions, presents a complicated option now that the Mariners are tweaking the fences. It seems that Chone Figgins wants out of Seattle almost as badly as Seattle wants him out of it. Miguel Olivo‘s time has ran out and if the Mariners bring him back I will riot.
There’s a blueprint out there for next year’s Mariners, and it’s basically the Oakland A’s. Spend a little money (I mean seriously, come on ownership), get a little pop into the lineup, let the kids develop, prevent runs with elite defense, and pitch like crazy. Like the A’s, the Mariners have a whole mess of young and talented starting pitchers waiting in the wings. They also have recently drafted catching prospect Mike Zunino tearing up any and all minor league levels he’s presented with. How quickly these players contribute to the big league club will depend on their natural development and the team’s ability to contend. Here’s hoping Zunino, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Danny Hultzen are all healthy, dominant, and needed soon. May we all now knock on the largest piece of wood in the world.