Yup, it’s been awhile.
Seattle owns the longest postseason drought in baseball and they haven’t come close to winning their division since 2003. They’ve crept closer to respectability of late, but damn, that’s an awful set of 15 seasons. They’ve taken last seven times. They’ve taken second-to-last four other times. In aggregate, they’ve played like a 76.9 win team for a decade and a half (for comparison’s sake, the White Sox have been an 81.4 win team over the same span). They’ve averaged losing their division by 18 games. They had two 100-loss seasons and finished 39 games back once. Something called “M.Haniger” has been their best player this year (we’ll get to that). They wasted all of Felix Hernandez’ career to-date and most of Ichiro Suzuki’s, with fruitless spurts of future Hall of Famers Robinson Cano and Adrian Beltre mixed in as well. Brendan Ryan led the team in WAR one year with a triple-slash line of .248/.313/.326. To sum it up, the Seattle Mariners are the sad clowns of the American League.
It’s not looking like things are going to get any happier this year, either. That’s not solely the Mariners’ fault, as Houston has built up a nearly insurmountable lead in the division, but the Mariners have been a little worse than the strength of their roster so far this year. You may have noticed in the graphic above that Seattle shattered its long drought of run production last season. This year’s team has been just as effective with the bats, so there’s no question about it. The new-look Mariners can hit.
Their lineup is anchored around the thunderous bats of Nelson Cruz and currently-injured Robinson Cano, neither of which are showing any effects of age. Third baseman Kyle Seager typically has a very good offensive game as well, but he’s had something of a power outage thus far. Even when he’s not hitting, Seager’s defense at third base is a significant asset.
The Mariners came into the season expecting the Cano-Cruz-Seager trio to carry the offense, but they’ve received lots of help from less expected sources. Shortstop Jean Segura has shown that last year’s breakout with Arizona was no fluke, as he now leads the American League in batting average. The aforementioned “M.Haniger” goes by “Mitch” and was a fringe prospect before crushing Triple-A pitching last season and extending that breakout after getting traded to the Mariners this year. His .342/.447/.608 line has been excellent enough to lead the team in bWAR despite the fact that he’s missed 20 games with a strained right oblique.
The Mariners haven’t missed a beat with Haniger out because Ben Gamel was called up to replace him and Gamel has been scorching hot. Though Gamel’s .429 BABIP is a red flag, the 25-year-old has drawn plenty of walks and has come up with more extra-base hits than his pedigree and modest stature would predict. He has a good shot to avenge his brother Mat’s failed attempt at a prolonged major league career. The other outfield corner has featured Guillermo Heredia, a contact hitter without much pop but a good enough sense of the strike zone and strong enough defensive chops to be a positive contributor.
The Mariners need these guys to put a lot of runs on the board because their starting rotation is in shambles. Drew Smyly strained his left elbow in the spring and he’s been on the disabled list all season. Felix Hernandez went on the disabled list in late April with shoulder inflammation and while he’ll likely return in the near future, it won’t be in time for this series. About a week later, Hisashi Iwakuma went down with a similar ailment. Finally, James Paxton, who was establishing himself as a legitimate ace, went down with a forearm strain. That’s Seattle’s four best starters. Consequently, their current starting rotation is about as anonymous a bunch as you’ll ever see.
The one pretty recognizable name that’s healthy is Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo used to be pretty good but in recent years profiles as more of a back-end type. The sinkerballer pitches to contact and gets a good, but not overwhelming number of ground balls. Lefty Ariel Miranda is a fastball/splitter pitcher and the latter is a legitimate out pitch. When he can’t set up the splitter, however, his low-90’s fastball can get hit a long way.
The remaining three guys are just generic replacement-level filler. Christian Bergman is the guy with the longest track record, but that track record consists of throwing batting practice for parts of three seasons in Colorado. Chase De Jong has tossed four starts for the Mariners and his peripherals are as bad as Mike Pelfrey’s. Sam Gaviglio is a minor league veteran that just broke into the majors this year at age 27 when Iwakuma went down. He’s a righty with little movement on his pitches and a fastball that sits below 90 mph. He should be cannon fodder, but there’s not much history to go off of here.
General manager Jerry Dipoto and his analytics-meets-chemistry approach have been a breath of fresh air in Seattle after the team had been poorly run for about 12 years. Still, the Mariners face an uphill climb after the opening quarter of the season if they are to break their playoff drought. The first step will be to stave off disaster as the pitching staff gets healthy. If they can do that, there are enough bats here to make a run at a wild card slot. Even if they don’t, at least this new brand of failure is more exciting than the old one.
Probable Starting Pitchers
Thursday, May 18: Sam Gaviglio vs. Dylan Covey
Friday, May 19: Ariel Miranda vs. Jose Quintana
Saturday, May 20: Yovani Gallardo vs. Mike Pelfrey
Sunday, May 21: Chase De Jong vs. Derek Holland
|1. Jean Segura - SS||SP1. Yovani Gallardo - RHP|
|2. Ben Gamel - RF||SP2. Ariel Miranda - LHP|
|3. Nelson Cruz - DH||SP3. Chase De Jong - RHP|
|4. Kyle Seager - 3B||SP4. Christian Bergman - RHP|
|5. Danny Valencia - 1B||SP5. Sam Gaviglio - RHP|
|6. Taylor Motter - 2B||CL. Edwin Diaz - RHP|
|7. Guillermo Heredia - LF||RP1. Steve Cishek - RHP|
|8. Jarrod Dyson - CF||RP2. Nick Vincent - RHP|
|9. Carlos Ruiz - C||RP3. James Pazos - LHP|