Moore: With all their misfortune so far, a wild-card berth seems like the Mariners’ best-case scenario
As you probably know, my glass is half-empty most of the time, but I’m trying to keep a positive attitude about the Mariners.
For starters, they won Monday night, beating the A’s 6-5 to snap a four-game losing streak. It wasn’t the greatest victory in the world. They managed just four hits, and their closer couldn’t close it out. See, there I go with the half-empty take again, but they still won.
They’re 18-21, which isn’t great. It’s not even good, but have you looked at the American League standings? Three teams have separated themselves from the field: Houston (27-12), New York (27-13) and Baltimore (22-14). The rest are a few games above, a few games below or right at .500, including the Mariners.
Plus, as bad as they looked in Toronto, the Mariners are just three games back in the race for the second wild-card spot. Yes, I’m calling it a race, even in the middle of May, even though we’re focused on a bunch of middle-of-the-pack teams.
The Astros can have the AL West championship. Even if I didn’t want them to have it, they’d take it anyway. They’re superior to every other team in the division. As I’ve mentioned before, I just want to see the Mariners end their 15-year playoff drought, and if it ends with one postseason game on the road, that’s fine with me. Just make it in, and I’ll take my chances with James Paxton, if healthy, in a sudden-death game.
But between now and the possibility of that happening, we’ve got more than 120 games to go. In the half-empty look at the Mariners, they haven’t played well in the first quarter of the season. The 2-8 start was a disaster.
Yet they’re 16-13 since. Think about that for a second. The Mariners have a winning record with the most injuries in baseball, with four-fifths of their rotation missing. With Jean Segura missing two weeks and Mitch Haniger missing for more than three weeks. They’ve missed the last five games with Robinson Cano, and they’ve posted a winning record without their opening day center fielder and catcher in Leonys Martin and Mike Zunino.
If they were 18-21 and mostly healthy, you could say they were the same-old Mariners and you wouldn’t get an argument from me. But what they’ve done, big picture, has been pretty amazing. They’re hanging in there with pitchers who are supposed to be starting for Tacoma, not Seattle.
And they’re doing it with two catchers, Carlos Ruiz and Tuffy Gosewisch, who have six hits in 56 at-bats, one of whom struck out in all four of his at-bats Monday night. We thought Zunino was bad, but these guys are worse – or they have been to this point anyway. In keeping with baseball’s attempt to speed things up, the Mariners should just give the other team an intentional out when it’s time for their catcher to hit.
Thing is, as their injured players start to return, think about what could happen as they get closer to full strength. If the Mariners can hold their own as a banged-up bunch, they should improve when their better players get back, it just stands to reason. The players who have been filling in should be better equipped and have more confidence to step up down the road when called upon, given the experience they’ve gotten now. Adversity has made for a stronger and deeper team, one that should help the Mariners in a wild-card run in September.
If I’m a player on this team, come September, and let’s say we’re five games out of the wild-card spot, I’m thinking: “Hey, remember how things were in May? How bad it was? We fought through that, we can certainly fight through this.” Maybe I’m off-base with that. It could be just a ridiculous case of wishful thinking. And unfortunately, the half-empty part of me is also the more realistic part that thinks the Mariners, even when healthy, have too many flaws to make it to the playoffs.
They have a playoff lineup and a playoff defense, but they don’t have a playoff rotation or playoff bullpen. They’ve missed Paxton for sure, but I honestly haven’t missed the version of Felix Hernandez we’ve seen in the last year or so. I feel bad for him that he’s out with shoulder bursitis and have a great appreciation for him and what he’s done and hope he goes to Cooperstown someday, but whatever Chase De Jong has given you in Felix’s absence is about what you would have gotten from Felix himself. Maybe he’ll be rejuvenated when he returns, but what I’m hoping for is simply a solid pitcher, not a spectacular one anymore.
I have the same hope for Hisashi Iwakuma, who could turn into a right-handed version of Jamie Moyer or a pitcher who is clearly at the end of his career. And Drew Smyly? The big offseason acquisition from Tampa Bay is supposed to return in July, but do you really expect him to be gangbusters after missing three months? I don’t either.
I don’t even know what to say about the bullpen. A few of those guys have been terrific. Left-handers can’t hit Marc Rzepczynski, and James Pazos and Tony Zych have pitched well for the most part. Nick Vincent’s numbers say he’s been pretty good as well, but I’m not a Nick Vincent fan, and I can’t explain that with anything of substance. I look at him and see a so-so reliever.
Then there’s Edwin Diaz, who suddenly looks close to being an ex-closer, giving up a game-losing homer to Kevin Pillar in Toronto on Sunday and walking four batters before being yanked in the ninth Monday night. Problem is, I can’t think of a good replacement. Maybe Zych, who recorded his first save when Diaz faltered against the A’s? Or Steve Cishek, the former closer who made his first appearance of the season Monday night? With Cishek, if it happens, it wouldn’t be for another week or two I wouldn’t think.
The rest of the bullpen is a grab-bag of “meh.”
Best case, when Paxton, Felix and Iwakuma return, you should get longer starts, which will help the bullpen. And you know the offense will be even better with Cano and Haniger. Cano might be back as soon as Tuesday night, and Haniger could be back for the start of the road trip next Tuesday in Washington.
Manager Scott Servais will have a nice problem on his hands when Haniger returns, giving him four capable outfielders for three spots, allowing him to mix and match with Guillermo Heredia, Ben Gamel, Jarrod Dyson and Haniger. Until recently, I thought it might be a good idea to go with Heredia, Gamel and Haniger as the starters, but Dyson has looked fantastic in center field, and it might be a better plan to platoon him with Heredia. I like the thought of having Dyson as a game-changing pinch-runner in the late innings of a tie game.
It’s been an interesting and entertaining first quarter of the season with reasons why they could be a playoff team and reasons they won’t.
The Go 2 Guy also writes for SeattlePI.com and KitsapSun.com. You can reach Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo.