Welcome to B&N, Tom Young…
Blind optimism is the greatest and worst thing for sports fans, it gives us all a reason to believe this year will be ‘the one’ but for most it makes poor performance that more difficult to stomach. Welcome to my 12-month cycle as a Mariners fan and this year seem exactly like those that have gone before.
So we’ve reached the middle of June and the Mariners are fourth in the AL West with a 36-37 record, 12.5 games back of the lead. Out in front is the Houston Astros with a healthy lead over the Texas Rangers and LA Angels before you see us. While the division is well out of reach, our eyes are set on closing the 1.5 game gap to get a wildcard spot.
The division was a possibility before taking to the field, that didn’t happen, and we’re fortunate that nobody is taking the American League wildcard slots by the scruff of the neck, Tampa Bay hold the lowest spot with a 37-36 record, but we have plenty of teams to leapfrog before reaching that goal.
It could’ve been so different though, in my head anyway.
The Rangers had an unexpectedly strong campaign last year, the Astros were expected to be better but not enough to be insurmountable while the A’s and Angels shouldn’t be a problem. Without a dominant team the league was open to be taken with aggression as long as our key pitchers got out of their slump from last year.
The King, Felix Hernandez, had a poor 2016 with career-worst numbers in both strikeout rate and walk rate, while Iwakuma had his worst season in his five year career.
Our strength heading into this year was the bats we’d collected, getting older but easily good enough to see us into the play-offs. A middle order of Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano along with the likes of Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger and Danny Valencia should be a line up above average at worst.
Crocked from Day One
Looking at projected line-ups is all well and good but it is a different thing all together when it comes to actually having those starters on the field.
Take a deep breath because this is a long list of players that have missed time in 2017:
- Robinson Cano (quad strain)
- Ryan Weber (biceps strain)
- Hisashi Iwakuma (shoulder inflammation)
- Evan Marshall (hamstring strain)
- James Paxton (forearm strain)
- Evan Scribner (flexor bundle strain)
- Mitch Haniger (oblique strain)
- Felix Hernandez (shoulder bursitis)
- Shawn O’Malley (appendectomy/shoulder surgery)
- She Simmons (elbow strain)
- Drew Smyly (left arm flexor strain)
- Steve Cishek (hip surgery)
- Tony Zych (shoulder surgery)
- Jean Segura (hamstring strain)
- Rob Whalen (shoulder inflammation)
Thankfully we are not far from pivotal players like Felix and Segura being back in the lineup to bring some attention to the ball club and give opponents more to be worried about.
Next man up
Well, well, well, where else can we start when it comes to pitching than the skeleton bullpen we’re trotting out at the moment.
Our leading rotation is arguably Hernandez, Paxton, Iwakuma, Smyly and Gallardo heading into the campaign but that didn’t last long. We’ve only had a combined 11 games from Hernandez, Smyly and Iwakuma, 10 from Paxton and 14 from Gallardo.
We’ve got signs of hope though, Paxton returned to the rotation on May 31, Hernandez is scheduled to pitch in Friday’s outing against the Astros, Iwakuma could be back a day later while Smyly is expected back in July.
Even though we haven’t had our biggest names on the mound, we haven’t been too far behind the curve. Christian Bergman had a strong outing against the Rangers on Sunday night while Marc Rzepczynski and Edwin Diaz have filled the void somewhat.
On the other side of the game, our bats are putting up some numbers but it hasn’t been consistent throughout the line-up on a daily basis. Cruz leads the American League in RBIs with 53 while Jarrod Dyson’s 17 stolen bases sees him second on the AL list. Cruz’s average (.292) is the team’s best, Cano is next with (.289) before a big drop-off to Valencia (.264) and Seager (.263).
We have the league’s eighth best batting average and OBP yet we have the AL second worst home run numbers and the division third worst SLG numbers. Helping that this month has been Ben Gamel who is hitting .403 in the month of June while Mike Zunino went deep twice last nice to take his June total to eight home runs.
If we are to challenge for a post-season spot we need more than one or two players stepping up at a time. We need a deep batting line-up with hots bats throughout the order but, with any luck, the latest signs show we’re moving towards that.
Segura stays in Seattle
The biggest plus away from the field is Jean Segura putting pen to paper on a contract extension. General Manager Jerry Dipoto signed the shortstop to a five-year deal and it was an indication that their won’t be a mass sale at the ball club, the Mariners are still dedicated to winning now.
A full no-trade clause cemented his place in the Pacific Northwest alongside Robinson Cano until 2022 and, to some degree, keep Seattle relevant for the remainder of this year and gives us a solid base to build on for the next few seasons, too.
This season isn’t over by a long shot…maybe
We’ve shown this year that we can put together a solid spell of results and if the pitching core can come back and stay healthy we should have enough of a boost to challenge for a post-season spot.
But, yet again, that is probably blind optimism rearing its ugly head. I’ve been a Mariners fan long enough to know full-well that they will fill me with hope but still find a way to not see the job through – boy, I hope I’m wrong.