RAMLOW: Role Players’ Performance Turns Mariners into Contenders
The Zone

On Sunday, the Seattle Mariners dropped their seventh game in the last 10 to the Texas Rangers, a familiar storyline to Mariner fans in recent years. What is not so familiar, however, is that the M’s still possess a .540 winning percentage and are in the midst of a very competitive battle for a playoff position.

The Mariners have been perennial bottom-feeders in recent years. Seattle currently has the longest postseason drought in Major League Baseball, at 14 years, but times are changing in the Pacific Northwest. In 2014, after the New York Yankees refused to pay superstar second baseman Robinson Canó, the Mariners signed him. In 2015, they signed power bat Nelson “Boomstick” Cruz to a four-year deal. Canó and Cruz, together with third baseman Kyle Seager, form the core of a very good lineup.

The real reason the M’s are doing so well offensively this year is not the stars; instead, it is the role players that have made the difference. These role players were brought in by the Mariners’ front office, led by new General Manager Jerry Dipoto, and groomed by the coaching staff, led by Mariners-legend-turned-pitching-coach Edgar Martinez and new Manager Scott Servais.

Last season season, Dipoto replaced Jack Zduriencik , who was long overdue for the can, having made atrocious signings such as wash-ups Jack Cust, Chone Figgins and Milton Bradley. Dipoto got to work right away, signing outfielders Leonys Martín, Seth Smith and Nori Aoki, catcher Chris Iannetta, and first basemen Dae-ho Lee and Adam Lind. He also cut bait with low-producers first baseman Logan Morrison, relief pitcher Danny Farquar and shortstop Brad Miller. These moves by Dipoto have given Servais depth, flexibility and production across the board.

The pitching staff has welcomed newcomers Wade Miley, Nathan Karns, Steve Cishek and Joaquín Benoit. However, among these newcomers, and among young guys like fireballer Taijuan Walker, there have been inconsistent results. For example, Miley has three starts this year in which he has posted a goose egg on the scoreboard, but he also owns a 5.27 ERA largely due to a three-game stretch where he gave up 18 earned runs in 14.2 innings.

The pitching staff’s star starter, Félix Hernández, is currently out with a calf strain for the next month or so, and although replacement James Paxton has filled in nicely, the Mariners are really missing Hernández.

Now the question becomes whether or not the Mariners can break out of their current slide and finally end that playoff drought. A closer look at the win-loss column gives us some strange insights.  First, Seattle is much worse at home than on the road. At Safeco Field this season they are 15-18.  At all other parks, they are 19-11. What happened to home field advantage?

Second, the team is terrible on weekends. Seattle is 6-14 on Saturday and Sunday but 28-15 on weekdays. To break the drought, the M’s will need to change those bizarre stats.

The Mariners also need their starting pitchers to bring their A-game every day. Despite the Cishek and Benoit additions, the bullpen is not one of the strengths of this team, so the starters have got to get it done. Ideally, Walker and Paxton settle into a groove and play somewhere in the realm of their near-limitless potential. If this happens, and Hernández comes back healthy, either Miley or Karns will be pushed from the starting rotation. That would give the Mariners a starting rotation of Hernández, Hisashi Iwakuma, Walker, Paxton and Miley/Karns, with the odd man out providing depth in the event of an injury.

On paper, that looks pretty good. With things clicking offensively, Iwakuma, Miley and Karns would only need to be decent. However, the Mariners need to weather the storm while Hernández remains out for an extended absence. It remains to be seen whether they are capable of doing so or not.

The Mariners’ championship window under their current makeup only extends a few more years. Hernández, Canó, Cruz and Iwakuma are all in their 30s. Aging stars have made GM Dipoto’s wheeling and dealing style a necessity.

I think the M’s will end up a solid Wild Card team, if not American League champions. They don’t yet have the makings of a legitimate World Series contender, but Seattle is on the rise and things are changing fast in the Northwest.

HughRamlowHugh Ramlow is a junior in the college. The Zone appears every other Tuesday.

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