The 2017 iteration of the Seattle Mariners opened the season with high aspirations. Competing for the A.L. West Crown was a possibility if not an inevitability for the Mariners who trotted out a lineup that featured Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager. Spearheading their rotation, yet again, was superstar pitcher Felix Hernandez. The 11-year veteran entered the year with a career 3.16 ERA. All with Seattle.
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However, not everything went according to plan for the Mariners. For one, Hernandez pitched just 86 innings in 2017 as he struggled with injuries. He missed large chunks of the season and ended the year with a 4.86 ERA. Well above his career average. In addition, it didn’t help that they struggle against the Astros within their division. The Mariners limped to a 5-14 record against the eventual World Series Champions.
The rest of the season was mired in mediocrity as they finished with an unimpressive 78-84 record. A third-place finish in the A.L. West. They had just one month (June) where they sported a record better than .500 in 2017. They eventually finished 23 games behind the Astros in the division.
What is different about the 2018 Mariners?
The short answer…not much. They will likely trot out much of the same team as 2017 with the notable exception of Dee Gordon and the ageless Ichiro Suzuki.
That is not to say they were void of talent in 2017. Cruz led the Mariners offense, belting 39 home runs and driving in 119 RBI’s. Cano hit .280 on the year, driving in 97 runs in the process. Seager was third on the team with 88 RBI’s and second with 27 home runs. Most importantly, however, was the emergence of lefty James Paxton. Prior to 2017, Paxton never surpassed six wins in a season. In 2017, Paxton started 24 games, going 12-5 with a 2.98 ERA. He allowed just nine home runs on the year and struck out 156 batters.
With that said, there is no guarantee those players can repeat those performances. Even if they do, last season it only amounted to 78 wins. Cruz continues to defy age barriers as he slugged the ball really well in 2017. However, how much longer can that continue? Cano had another strong season but he is not getting younger either and has already dealt with hamstring problems in Spring Training. Paxton has the most promise given his age and general progression. The Mariners will rely on him more than ever given Hernandez’ decline and pension for injuries as he gets older. He too has been dealing with minor injuries in Spring Training already.
So, right now, the Mariners are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They have a good enough team to compete for a playoff spot in 2018. Given the presumed staying power of the Astros, they will likely not be in contention for a division crown. In addition, they lack the reinforcements within the farm system to give this team a spark if needed. The Mariners sport one of the worst minor league systems in the league and don’t have many options to restock it.
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Key Acquisition: 2B Dee Gordon
The offseason for the Mariners was calm except for the arrival of Dee Gordon in the Pacific Northwest. In 2017 with the Marlins, Gordon collected 201 hits and led the National League with 60 stolen bases. His .308 average was the second highest of his career behind only 2015 where he hit .333 and had a career-high 205 hits. His 114 runs scored in 2017 are by-far his career best.
Now, the Mariners are hoping Gordon can replicate that success at a very hitter-friendly, Safeco Field. Ideally, they would like to see Gordon solidify the top of their order like Ichiro did for over a decade in Seattle.
Turning back the clock to 2001
Ichiro made his North American pro debut back in 2001 with the Mariners. His first 10 seasons in the league he surpassed 200 hits and was perennially one of the best lead-off bats in the league. In 2012, Suzuki was shipped to the Yankees in a trade deadline deal. He spent 2 1/2 years with the Bronx Bombers before spending the last three seasons in Miami.
Now, at age 43, Ichiro hasn’t surpassed 200 hits since his final full season in Seattle. In fact, he hasn’t collected more than 100 hits in a season since his final season in New York. Perhaps a return to Safeco will reinvigorate Ichiro which should help this team, however, it still won’t be enough to raise the ceiling for this team.
What needs to go right for the Mariners?
As mentioned above, they need to, at the very least, get the same sort of offensive performance from their trio of dangerous bats. In addition, Paxton needs to firm control of the ‘Ace’ role on this team with another strong season on the mound. However, they will need to have King Felix out there too. It would be foolish to think he can return to his Cy Young days, however, 150 effective innings should do it. Finally, new acquisition, Dee Gordon, needs to add a new energy to this occasionally potent lineup. On top of playing like he did with the Marlins in 2017.
The Bottom Line
It is really hard seeing this team be much better than a .500 team. Even with everything going right for them. When you take into account the strength of their division and the American League in general with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Indians they face long odds to break their playoff drought.
Final Record: 80-82
4th in the A.L. West
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