With 2017 all but lost, let’s look at what went wrong for this year’s Mariners team.
The Mariners are four games back of the second Wild Card spot but also have three teams in front of them, also outside looking in. Seattle would essentially have to win out to make it. The Seattle Mariners are the healthiest they have been all season. By that, I mean, they have their stars in the lineup and not on the disabled list. Everyone has bruises and bumps this time of year. However, the Mariners have certainly not played like they are at full strength. They have had two consecutive losing months, posting an 8-10 record so far in September.
So, what went wrong? Why are the Mariners four games under .500, only having been as high as three games above .500 all year? Why are they staring at yet another playoff-less season?
1. Stars Under-performing
Kyle Seager had a power outage to start the year, with just five home runs in the first 50 games of the season. In the second half he has turned it on a bit, hitting 15 home runs bring his totals to 25 home runs and a .253 average (which is 11 points lower than his career mark).
Robinson Cano had big bursts followed by bone-dry spells. His 21 home runs are a far cry from his career-high 39 he had last season. His lifetime batting average is .305; he is currently at .284.
Are we witnessing the end of Felix Hernandez? Forget about being an ace. Those days are over. With at least two more years and $53 million still owed to the King, can he even be a serviceable middle-of-the-rotation starter? The numbers this season are not encouraging. Sure he has his “King Felix” moments. But they are becoming more of a rarity. His current 4.57 ERA would be a career-high. Since he has been injured a lot of the season, I resort to “adjusted” numbers. For example, his 93 ERA+ would be a career-low (100 is average).
This is the easiest of the “excuses” and it could be legitimate. Although every team deals with injuries, the Mariners got completely obliterated by injuries in their starting rotation. Every single member of the projected Opening Day rotation spent time on the disabled list. Most spent much more than the minimum ten days. It’s hard to win games with a rotation featuring Sam Gaviglio, Andrew Moore, Christian Bergman and Erasmo Ramirez. They just piled up and the Mariners were constantly playing catch-up with a sub-par pitching staff.
For most of the season, the narrative was “oh just wait until they are at full strength.” James Paxton and Felix Hernandez returned earlier this month. This was the time to turn it on with the rest of the Wild Card teams stumbling. Since Felix’s return on September 14th, the M’s are 1-5.
The lineup has been relatively healthy for most of the season, with the exception of Mitch Haniger. Seattle stars Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager have only missed 26 total games this season.
3. Baserunning Miscues
This may seem like a ticky-tack cause of their demise, but the Mariners’ baserunning may have cost them several wins and a chance at the playoffs. Even though they were dramatically better defensively, running the bases was more or less a disaster. You don’t have to be a speed burner or super athletic to intelligently run the bases.
Using the sabermetric stat Ultimate Base Running (UBR), which calculates runs awarded or taken away based on baserunning (things such as going from first to third on a base hit, stolen bases, tagging up, and running into outs). 0 is considered average much like WAR or Defensive Runs Saved. The Royals are the best base running team, with a +9 UBR. The Mariners? Dead. Last. They are at -11.2. They also have 32 runners who have been caught stealing, seventh-most in baseball.
4. Absolute Ineptitude Against Division Rivals
When this year started, I wrote a piece explaining the Mariners’ path to October would go through Texas, meaning they had to beat the Astros and Rangers to get there. Mission not accomplished. Seattle completely failed to match up with the AL West champion Houston Astros. They went 5-14. Ouch. They did have a winning record against the Rangers at 11-7. The surprising thing was their breakdown against the Los Angeles Angels. They were 6-10. The Mariners were 32-37 against fellow AL West teams as of Thursday afternoon. That will not get it done.
Unfortunately, it will likely be another year without the playoffs for the October-starved Mariners faithful. I hope I am totally wrong and this article appears on the “Freezing Cold Takes” account or “posts that didn’t age well.” There are pieces in place for another run next year but this one sure hurts.