Let’s Talk Some Mariners

The Mariners just pounded the Royals 7-0 to keep treading water in the AL West. Seems like the perfect time for a fake Q&A. As always, these are made up questions that no one has ever asked me.

Talk a little about the Mariners’ season so far.

That’s not a question.

Sorry. How has this season gone for the M’s?

That’s better. Not well. They quickly extinguished the World Series talk with a terrible start, and while they’ve been better at times, they’ve also been consistently inconsistent. Right now they’re six games under .500 and around 8 games back in the division.

What’s been the problem?

A little bit of everything. The pitching and defense were bad to start. The pitching has gotten good and the defense has been okay since, but the offense has been mostly bad all year. They’ve also been plagued by a lack of focus and general malaise that’s led to a lot of silly errors and a seeming lack of fight in certain games.

So what should they do? They probably need to switch out most of the team, right?

That’s the weird thing. There aren’t really that many holes now. Let’s break it down.

Cruz, Seager and Seth Smith have done exactly what was expected or more, as have J.A. Happ and Charlie Furbush on the pitching side. Austin Jackson and Logan Morrison started slow but have turned into solid bats since, although we’ll see if it lasts with Jackson. Brad Miller’s stats aren’t amazing, but he’s actually been one of the better shortstops in the league offensively, and his defense has been mostly solid. The starting rotation has been good to great, despite the occasional rough start. Felix has been spotty lately, but he should be fine going forward. The youngsters (ie Walker, Paxton, Elias, Montgomery) have had bad games, but have mostly been really good, especially since the middle of May or so. The bullpen has also stabilized. It’s not as good as last year’s incredible group, but it’s good enough.

That all sounds pretty good. So what’s the problem at this moment?

For the pitching, they could use another elite reliever or two, especially with Rodney out of the closer role. But that’s not a huge issue. The real problem is three black holes in the lineup and a worthless bench. Two of them, Zunino and Cano, aren’t going anywhere. Zunino is so valued defensively, and there is such a dearth of decent catchers, that the team will just live with a weak bat. If he could rebound just to last year’s numbers, that would be a huge addition. Cano seems to be turning things around a bit. His season-long slump is probably the largest contributor to the offensive issues.

The other hole is left field, where Dustin Ackley has been a complete failure. He had a great game tonight, so maybe he can build on that. Yeah, it’s probably not going to happen. The addition of Mark Trumbo has patched the problem slightly, but they could still use a good every day outfielder, or even a right-handed bat to platoon since Ruggiano and Weeks failed pretty miserably.

So what can they do? Is there help in the farm system?

Maybe, but not really.  Tacoma has some veterans who might help some. Guys like Franklin Gutierrez, Jesus Montero, and maybe even Stefen Romero are having solid seasons and might be able to help, but they all have issues too.  Guti is still Guti and is unable to play many games in a row. Scouts are still skeptical about Montero, and Romero was terrible in the bigs last year. Still, any one of them or a few others could come up and provide a boost for a month or more. There just aren’t any guarantees.

Trading Willie Bloomquist for Chris Taylor or even Ketel Marte (once he’s healthy) would be an immediate improvement, but they seem reluctant to move on from Willie. This squad could really use a top prospect promotion to provide some excitement and a short term boost, but there’s no one who fits that bill.

I though rebuilding the farm system was supposed to be Jack’s specialty?

It was, but most of the advanced talent has been promoted already. What’s left is young and/or struggling mightily. There’s still hope for the future but little help for the present.

Trades?

Hard to say. It’s a little early still, and the Mariners don’t have a lot of talent to trade. I’d be looking for a righty outfielder though, especially one who can get on base, along with a righty set up man and a backup catcher. No idea if they’ll find them, but that would be ideal.

People have started talking about firing McClendon and ZduriencikWould that help?

That’s a very different question for each guy. With McClendon, who knows. I’m always skeptical of manager changes being the answer, but something’s clearly not clicking with this team. I like Lloyd, but sometimes a new voice is the difference. He’s indicated the team is struggling with expectations, which isn’t really mark on the good side of his ledger. In short, I’d be fine with it either way.

With Jack, it’s a little more complicated, simply because changing general managers means a much bigger shakeup. It’s become clear that he struggles with building a complete team. He has a poor record in picking non-elite free agent hitters. And for all of his scouting accolades, his offensive prospects have mostly struggled in the minors and especially when reaching Seattle. On the plus side, he’s improved the talent significantly and demonstrated an ability to build a cheap and effective pitching staff. I could go either way on this one too. I think the Mariners could do much better than Zduriencik, but I’m profoundly skeptical that they actually would. Mariner management is anything but inspiring.

Just a hunch, but barring a good next month to put them into contention, I’d say one or both of them will be gone before the end of the season, and possibly very soon.

So, is the season basically over?

I would say no. The M’s really just need for people to start hitting like they have before. A really good hot streak or two by someone would help too. The pitching will keep them in nearly every game, especially with Iwakuma and Paxton eventually returning. This team just needs some kind of spark. I have no idea what it will be or if they’ll ever receive it, but the pieces are mostly there to be a solid team. Whether they can get back into contention depends on whether Houston and Texas come back to the pack, but I think they will.

The preseason hopes were clearly too high for this team. The M’s have good talent, but it’s (mostly) not elite. They were always a team who could work its way into the postseason and then hope for a hot streak to carry them to the World Series, like the Royals last year. It would have taken everything going right to be a juggernaut, and instead everything went wrong, at least to start the season. This is a better team than they’ve shown, and is pretty fun to watch when they’re on, but it’s anyone’s guess when or if it will click and they’ll turn into the winning team everyone expected.

-Matthew

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