Are the Mariners a playoff team if their bullpen improves?

Feb 11, 2016, 3:15 PM | Updated: 4:08 pm
Joaquin Benoit is one of the offseason acquisitions that will be relied upon to improve Seattle&#82...
Joaquin Benoit is one of the offseason acquisitions that will be relied upon to improve Seattle's bullpen. (AP)
(AP)

There were multiple variables that led to a disappointing 76-86 season for the 2015 Mariners – a lack of timely hitting, too many strikeouts and a below-average defense, to name a few.

There may have been no area of weakness bigger than the bullpen, however, where the relievers finished the season with 24 blown saves and 36 losses, plus a combined 4.15 ERA that ranked 25th out of the 30 MLB teams. That included 27 losses in an opponent’s final at-bat, 12 of which were walkoffs, according to The Seattle Times.

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While the core of the Mariners’ offense and starting rotation are back for 2016, the bullpen remains the wild card. The revamped pen features a myriad of question-marks and reclamation projects scooped up from around the league, with only one proven reliever returning from last year’s group, lefty specialist Charlie Furbish.

Thus the question posed on “Brock and Salk”: If the Mariners improve to a league-average bullpen, are they a playoff team?

Mike Salk said the answer should be yes, but there are too many other variables involved. While that the late-inning pitching struggles played a major role in last season’s disappointing results, he doesn’t think it wasn’t the lone culprit keeping them out of the playoffs.

“Your starting pitching made your bullpen come in a lot earlier and a lot more often than you wanted it to, and I think that is one of, not the only, reasons the bullpen struggled,” Salk said. “And then two, you really did continue to suffer and struggle with runners in scoring position. You just didn’t do it. How many games do you win if you just come up with the one hit, come up with the one moment where you need to move a runner along and get him in? They weren’t able to do those things.”

Salk said he needs questions answered about the effectiveness of newcomers in other areas first, namely starting pitchers Wade Miley, Nathan Karns and Taijuan Walker, center fielder Leonys Martin and first baseman Adam Lind.

“I’ve got to know the answer to all of those things at least to have some clue as to whether the bullpen is going to be enough to put them over the top,” Salk said.

Brock Huard said early success closing out games will be huge. He said losing late-inning games, like an NFL team losing in the fourth quarter, is debilitating.

“It’s probably not too dissimilar to the Seahawks, frankly, in their inability to close out games (in 2015), something they did so very well for years,” Huard said. “It’s something the Mariners did so very well in winning 87 the year before. And then all of the sudden, oh my gosh, this is a painful way to lose.”

You can hear the full discussion here, starting at 18:14.

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Are the Mariners a playoff team if their bullpen improves?