At 41-48, what’s to like?

King to Nellie: We were supposed to win it all Nellie! What went wrong? Nellie to King: Don't worry Felix.  We'll get 'em next year.
King to Nellie: We were supposed to win it all Nellie! What went wrong?
Nellie to King: Don’t worry Felix. We’ll get ’em next year.

I’ve been a consistent and supportive fan since the beginning.  No the beginning was not 1995, it was 1977.  I cheered for whatever in the prolonged expansion years.  I cheered when times were good.  I cheered through the long post-Lou drought.  I was not uncritical in the good times, and I’m certainly not uncritical now.  And I am certainly disappointed, maybe more than I ever have been with the Seattle Mariners.

This was supposed to be the year.  General Manager Jack Zdurencik seemed to pull the right strings and make the right moves.  He brought aboard home run champ Nelson Cruz.  He picked up role players like Seth Smith, Justin Ruggiano, and Ricky Weeks.  The team was returning one of the best bullpens in the majors.  The rotation had Felix and Iwakuma, and was returning promising rookies James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, with fifth slot filled by J.A. Happ, picked up for forever injured Michael Saunders and/or Roenis Elias. The M’s were annointed frontrunners for the AL West Division championship and likely competitors for the AL crown.  What the hell happened?

Truly, this has been such a challenging year to write about this team.  And, in fact, I haven’t. The 2-9 homestand in June sucked the life out of me.  And their inability to play consistent ball since then has me cursing at the television set.

Don’t get me wrong, there were little victories to cheer on the way to 41-48.  Mike Montgomery, Roenis Elias, and Taijuan Walker each had those awesome 10 strikeout, no walk performances.  But they’re offset by three double digit losses to Houston (May 2nd, June 12th, June 14th,) a 12-0 mashing by the A’s on April 10, and the recent crushing by the Tigers 12-5, and the first half ender by the Angels 10-3.The bottom line is, in a time of dominant pitching, and on a team that in recent years has found a way to win with pitching, the Mariners have, at best, mediocre pitching. The M’s are a tick below league average in ERA.  But they are below league average in ERA+, Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP,) and Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP.)  They don’t give up too many home runs, or walks, they just allow too many hits.

And I guess that’s to be expected when you lose two of your top starters to injuries as the M’s have with Iwakuma and Paxton.  Each of their replacements, Elias and Montgomery have had their moments, but honestly all of the pitchers have had times when they’ve just flat been lit up.  Even Felix, whom I admire as much as any Mariner ever, has seemed a bit unfocused at times in ways he hasn’t in the past.  His 11 wins are nice, but it’s frankly not about the wins it’s about determination and commitment to winning in ways that can’t be measured and I haven’t felt it as much this year from the King and many other players.

Moving on to the bullpen, aside from Carson Smith and Mark Lowe, if you really needed to get a guy out and you had to choose from A) Fernando Rodney; B) Tom Wilhelmsen, C) Joe Beimel; D) David Rollins, E) Vidal Nuno, or F) Brandon Maurer, who would you choose?  I would, of course, choose Brandon Maurer, but unfortunately he no longer pitches for the Seattle Mariners.  Last year. the bullpen was lights out death to offense in later innings.  This year, potential rallies turn into big innings and games in which the M’s are behind heading into the 6th-9th innings into routs.

When your pitching staff is, to be charitable, mediocre, the offense really has to step it up to be competitive.  But the M’s don’t have that kind of offense. Nelson Cruz has had a surprising first half, demonstrating that he’s a much better hitter than I ever remembered.  When is the last time the M’s had a hitter in the top ten in all three triple crown categories?  But in a year in which  manager Lloyd McClendon predicted the M’s would score 700 runs, the M’s scored 312 in 89 games, good enough for 14th in the American League and 83% of league average. Not surprising when the team is dead last in batting average and 14th in on base percentage. For those who like their stats a bit more updated, the Mariners are 14th in weighted Runs Created (wRC+).

There are folks I’ve heard interviewed who have suggested the M’s are going to turn it around in the second half and really make a run, at something. The Mariners are 7.5 games behind the Angels for the division lead, The Angels are hot right now, and the M’s are sort of dog paddling to stay afloat.  In a year of relative American League mediocrity or parity depending on your perspective and two wild card spots to play for, you might think the M’s are still in the hunt for a playoff spot.  Well, they aren’t out, but they are 14th in the league in winning percentage.  That means they have to climb over eight teams ahead of them to cash in on the wild card. They are presently 7 games out.

This is not 1995.  Ken Griffey, Jr. is not coming back to help this team. in August.  The Mariners have not had a win streak longer than four games all season, and they haven’t won back to back games in nearly a month. In every phase of the game the M’s are, at best league average, and at worst god-awful.  Winning isn’t a light switch you suddenly turn on.  Some of it is talent, and honestly I feel like this team has some of that, but so much of winning consistently in a long season is chemistry, talent, desire and grit.  Last year’s team was desperate to score, and they found a way to keep the opponents down and eke out close wins.  This year’s team, with many of the same guys, simply aren’t able to do it.  I could be wrong, but the 2015 Mariners seem to lack the inner fire to win consistently.  Oh, they may put together enough of a push to win 80 games, but no way to they make the playoffs.

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