Day 5 of the Pop-Tarts Series features the Seattle Mariners, a club looking to make the jump into playoff baseball.
How’s It Going?
Seattle stands at 28-36 and 5.5 games out of a wild card spot. Hard to say anyone saw this talented team on paper flop this extremely thus far, especially in such a weak division.
The overall Mariners lineup is underwhelming. One big exception has been Nelson Cruz. In his first year in Seattle, Cruz has mashed 18 homers and 41 RBI while hitting .311 as the Mariners’ DH. Cruz has been just as good as last season in Baltimore, maybe even slightly better without the rigors of playing daily defense. Kyle Seager has had a strong year as well. The homegrown talent is hitting .275 with 11 homers, good for a solid .799 OPS. Unfortunately, this is where Seattle’s accolades for hitting cease. The centerpiece of the lineup, Robinson Cano, has struggled mightily thus far. Cano is hitting just .236, and his OPS is a truly awful .600. It is one thing to have a star player go through a slump, but when your shiny new toy is below replacement level, being compared to Jason Bay by his management, and still owed over $250 million over 9 more years? That’s a major problem. Cano will likely bounce back to average numbers by season’s end, but it could be time to question his status as the league’s premier second sacker. Logan Morrison is nothing special at first base. Ditto for Brad Miller at shortstop. Their catcher, Mike Zunino, is a strikeout machine who cannot even get on base at a .230 clip (!), and their outfielders are big names who are underperforming (See: Jackson, Austin; Trumbo, Mark, and Ackley, Dustin). It is baffling to see a team with so much potential star power have all of their big guns misfire. Cano could be scarred for the remainder of his contract, Ackley and Morrison have never hit their potential fully, and Zunino probably will never come close. Relying on youngsters to play pivotal roles can be beneficial in spurts, but when the whole team consists of this philosophy, the well can run dry in the blink of an eye.
Verdict: B- (Just because of Cruz and Seager)
The Mariners are no better on the pitching front either. Coming into the season, it was thought that the Mariners would have 6 quality starters for 5 spots. As baseball has a tendency to do, it has messed up these plans immensely. King Felix Hernandez is in danger of losing his crown after a couple of terrible outings this month, former Cy Young Runner-Up Hishashi Iwakuma has been injured and ineffective thus far, and consensus top Mariners prospect Taijuan Walker has been horrible as a rookie, pitching to a 5.00 ERA and a .273 batting average against. Ironically, the rest of the rotation hasn’t been that bad, as J.A. Happ has been a serviceable number 4 starter, James Paxton is a good young southpaw, and Roenis Elias is not the worst fill-in starter. Unfortunately, all of these pitchers have their own flaws too. Happ is getting drilled at a .275 BAA, Paxton is injury-prone, and Elias just got rocked in his last outing. The uncertainty of a stacked rotation on paper is a key reason why the M’s have failed thus far. The bullpen as a whole has been pretty good. Carson Smith, Charlie Furbush, Tom Wilhelmen, and Mark Lowe are all very good at what they do in the middle innings. However, it is the 9th inning that is killing the Mariners this year. Fernando Rodney, Mr. Tilted Cap himself, has blown 3 saves already, is getting clobbered at .287 BAA, and his ERA stands at 6.26. The unwillingness of manager Lloyd McLendon to demote Rodney has cost the Mariners dearly. One could hope this will change soon if the M’s want to contend this year.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: roster full of talent fails to live up to expectations with both rookies and proven superstars. Team falls below .500, yada yada yada it’s rebuild time again. This, unfortunately, is where the Seattle Mariners are heading. I, for one, did not see this coming at all; I had picked the Mariners to represent the AL in the World Series! The Mariners are probably not this bad a team overall, but they have the makings of a .500 ballclub by September. Lloyd McLendon better watch his step this offseason. The M’s could be rebuilding in a BIG way after failing to contend in 2015.