BRENT STECKER

Three things: How the Mariners arrived at the All-Star break just above .500

Jul 11, 2016, 8:50 AM

The Mariners won on Sunday to salvage a split with the defending champion Royals in their final series before the All-Star break, which put them at 45-44 for the season rather than a game below .500. That leaves them in position to make a push for a playoff spot, but it will take another extended hot streak make it happen.

Here are three things that tell the story about the Mariners’ first half of the season.

1. Somehow, Cano is the Mariners’ only All-Star.

The Mariners are sixth in the American League in runs scored, but that is only 12 runs behind the second-best team (Toronto), and even though they have three players with an OPS over .900, only second baseman Robinson Cano is an All-Star. There was some tough luck involved for third baseman Kyle Seager (.287/.365/.537, 18 homers, 61 RBIs) and primary designated hitter Nelson Cruz (.280/.366/.543, 23 homers, 58 RBIs) to be passed over for a couple of Blue Jays as reserves at their respective positions. And while it’s hard to make much of a case for Seager vs. reigning American League MVP Josh Donaldson – even though the one-time All-Star is having his best season to date – I would argue Cruz should have gone to San Diego over Edwin Encarnacion, who appears to have been chosen for his high RBI total (80) and not his slash line (.267/.358/.541). Cruz at least should have been on the ballot for the AL’s Final Vote, which was won by yet another Blue Jay: ex-Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders. At least Mariners fans will get to cheer on Cano twice, as he’ll be in the All-Star Game on Tuesday as well as the Home Run Derby on Monday.

2. Injuries derailed the pitching staff.

While the Mariners have a pair of offensive players with a legitimate reason to gripe about not being invited to San Diego, the same cannot be said for any of their pitchers. Injuries wreaked havoc all over the staff, and with Felix Hernandez out since early June, that left Hisashi Iwakuma as Seattle’s most reliable rotation arm. That his 4.35 ERA and 1.34 WHIP are both well above his career averages should tell you all you need to know about the Mariners’ rotation over the first half of the season. The bullpen had its moments, but it also had multiple implosions by setup man Joaquin Benoit and closer Steve Cishek, who were supposed to be the two relievers the team could depend on. There’s a fair-to-good chance Seattle’s hurlers can get on track after the break, though. Hernandez is slated to return July 20 to pitch in the finale of the team’s upcoming homestand, Taijuan Walker is expected to be back in two weeks from right foot tendinitis, and Mike Montgomery made quite the case for himself to be in the rotation with 6 1/3 innings Sunday in a spot start. The bullpen could get help soon, too, with Charlie Furbush on a minor-league rehab assignment and the trio of Tony Zych, Ryan Cook and Nick Vincent on the comeback trail.

3. The leadoff spot was never solidified.

The Mariners signed outfielder Norichika Aoki in the offseason to be their leadoff man, but he ended the first half with Triple-A Tacoma, so it’s safe to say that didn’t work out like general manager Jerry Dipoto had hoped. Seattle initially sent Aoki down to the Rainiers as a last resort, as it needed to go to a short bench to add an extra bullpen option and Aoki was the most expendable player with a minor-league option left. The Mariners have had opportunities to bring him back up, though, and instead decided to promote Daniel Robertson, who is less of an adventure in the outfield and better fits Seattle’s lefty-heavy roster as a right-handed swinger. Should Aoki return, he might get another crack at hitting first, though, as Leonys Martin and Ketel Marte have both struggled since returning from short stints on the disabled list. Martin was the Mariners’ hottest hitter when he pulled a hamstring on May 25, but since coming back on June 10 he has a .210/.272/.295 slash line with just one stolen base. And while Marte hasn’t appeared hampered at all by the wrist injury he suffered on May 21, he hasn’t been patient enough at the dish to suggest he’s ready to be a full-time leadoff man. He walked 24 times in 57 games with the Mariners in 2015, but he’s drawn just 10 free passes in 71 games this year, and only three have come in the 31 games since he returned from his injury. If the Mariners end up buying at the trade deadline, a high on-base player might be on their shopping list next to reliable bullpen pieces.

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