Servais: Mariners ‘were very close this year; we will get there next year’
Following one of the most topsy-turvy seasons in recent memory, the Mariners fell just short of ending the organization’s 15-year postseason drought. Two days removed from the season finale, manager Scott Servais told “Brock and Salk” that he’s still recovering.
“Personally, I’m depressed,” he said Tuesday. “There’s nowhere to go. It’s like you’re on the hamster wheel. You just get up everyday and you’re looking ahead to the next game and how that night’s gonna work out and stuff, so when it ends, it ends. It’s just so sudden.”
At 86-76, the Mariners fell three games shy of Toronto and Baltimore for a wild-card spot, with their hopes dashed in a wild 10-inning loss to Oakland on Saturday. The record was a dramatic improvement from their 76 wins in 2015 and one win behind the 2014 Mariners team that fell short of the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.
Servais said the team’s biggest accomplishments this season were its strong finish and laying the foundation for the future. That foundation started in spring training, where Servais said the No. 1 goal was to bring his veteran-laden team together. That closeness culminated with a strong September and ended with Saturday’s stinging loss.
“Seeing the heartbreak on our players on Saturday night after we lost that crazy game,” Servais said. “When you’re in professional sports and you walk into the clubhouse after a game like that, and I was not prepared to give the end-of-the-season speech, but that’s part of the job. You’ve got to stand up and do it and talk to the guys.”
Servais said a number of players left with “heads down, eyes watery” following Saturday’s loss, which he said “shows how much they cared and how much they really pull for each other.” Servais, a first-year manager, said he was emotional as well.
“I teared up, too. I love this team. I really did,” he said. “Any time you do anything for the first time, it’s the one you’d probably remember the most and it will stick with you forever just because you learn so much about yourself and about the team going through it. But I really did. This team was special. It will always be special for me. But every season is new, we’ll have a new roster, we’ll add some guys, we’ll lose some guys. Already, in a meeting yesterday, the guys in the front office (are) preparing for next year.”
Servais called the season a “roller-coaster ride,” starting with the tough opening home stand and spiraling through walk-off wins, Felix Hernandez’s injury and some “rocky” starting pitching. He said he even had a sit down with the team’s veterans before the All-Star break, just prior to trade deadline.
“Sitting down with those guys and saying, ‘Hey, if we don’t pick it up, there’s going to be some different nameplates out there,’” Servais recalled. “That’s kind of where we were as an organization; which way do we go? And to their credit, they picked it up. It’s funny, because after the game Saturday night, Nelson Cruz came into my office and he reminded me of that talk and how they did step up.”
Servais said he plans to conduct exit interviews with the younger players – including Taijuan Walker – about their experience from the season and make sure each one realizes what needs to happen in the offseason. But he’ll take some time to let the “raw emotion” and “deflating” end to the season pass.
“I’ll get on the phone with guys here probably in the next week, 10 days, talk to them there when their minds are a little clearer and talk about their offseason and go from there,” he said.
Servais said he did speak with veterans Cruz and Robinson Cano, both of whom came into his office for about a half an hour after Saturday night’s loss. He said they spoke about their excitement for the future and discussed ways for young players, including Ketel Marte and Mike Zunino, to improve.
“These guys really care,” Servais said of Cano and Cruz. “They care about their teammates, they like them, they love playing and competing with them and they want to see them do better. And they all need to get a little bit better for us to get over the hump.”
Servais described the season as “a good year, not a great year.” He said everyone was “hoping for something great, something magical to get us into the playoffs” and that he was proud of the team. He said the goal is to comfortably win the American League West, which should keep the team from having the dramatic late-season highs and lows. And, acknowledging that it’s not a finished product, he said he and his coaching staff started instilling the kind of culture he wants.
“Everybody wants to talk about winning. Winning, winning, winning,” he said. “Winning is a result. And I talk to our players a lot about this, probably four or five discussions through the month of September when guys were starting to press. ‘We gotta win this game.’ It doesn’t work that way. You have to buy into a process and over the course of the year, our organization – not just our team – but our organization bought into a process and then the result comes, which is the winning. So I feel good about if we stay disciplined to the process and what we’re about, the winning will come. It will take care of itself.”
This year’s Mariners group stayed awfully loose, with a pool table added to the clubhouse, rookies dressing in costumes and an end-of-the-year party that Servais said was filled with gag gifts. Next year will be the same.
“You’ve got to have fun. You’ve got to screw around,” Servais said. “I will be creative, things that I come up with and my coaching staff, to make guys want to come to the ballpark every day. And that’s what we did this year.”
As for the rest of the MLB season, Servais said he will probably watch some of the playoffs but hopes his players watch all of them to help put “a little salt in the wound” that motivates them for next season.
“The town is ready and really hungry for playoffs here,” he said. “We will do everything we can to get there. We were very close this year; we will get there next year.”