Injuries derail Mariners' hopes of ending playoff drought
SEATTLE (AP) - There are many reasons the longest playoff drought in baseball is now at 16 years and counting.
Seattle Mariners fans aren't interested in that, though. Until Seattle is finally back in the playoffs, every season is going to be considered a failure.
This was supposed to be the year Seattle's postseason drought finally came to an end. Instead, the Mariners' season was derailed by injuries that left them just trying to tread water. The fact they were in playoff contention into September was the result of the Mariners' resolve and mediocrity in the American League.
They fell short in the end at 78-84. Seattle never had a prolonged winning streak - the longest being six games in late June. And it was a six-game losing streak in September that finally knocked them out of contention.
"I kept saying we had a good streak in us. I said it all year long," manager Scott Servais said. "We never got the consistent rhythm of our starting pitching to allow that to happen. Believe me I was wishful. I was hoping it was coming."
Pitching proved to be Seattle's biggest issue, mostly due to injuries in the rotation and the resulting overuse of the bullpen. Seattle used a major league-record 40 pitchers this season. Seventeen pitchers started at least one game. Most teams expect to go eight or nine deep with starters. Seventeen? No one plans for that.
James Paxton, Felix Hernandez and Hisahi Iwakuma all spent significant time on the disabled list. Drew Smyly, one of Seattle's big offseason acquisitions, never threw a regular-season pitch due to arm troubles that eventually led to Tommy John surgery.
"The injuries that we went through this year are a big deal," Servais said.
Here are other things to know about the Mariners' season and what's ahead in 2018:
ROTATION'S FUTURE: The status of Seattle's starting rotation going into next season will be one of the team's biggest questions. A handful of spots appear set. Paxton is clearly Seattle's No. 1 starter going into next season with the challenge of finally staying healthy for an entire year. The strained pectoral he suffered in August played a huge factor in the team's fade.
Mike Leake would appear to have another spot. Leake shined after being acquired from St. Louis in late August.
If he can stay healthy, Hernandez will continue to hold a spot in the rotation but without the expectation of being Seattle's ace.
The rest of the rotation is in question. The Mariners have plenty of options and proved this year there can never be enough depth. But who emerges as the fourth and fifth starters from a group that includes Marco Gonzales, Andrew Moore, Ariel Miranda, Erasmo Ramirez and any offseason acquisitions remains a major concern.
CRUZ CONTROL: Nelson Cruz continued to defy his age with another stellar season at the plate. Cruz hit .288 with 39 home runs and 119 RBIs. He was unable to reach 40 homers for the fourth straight season but Cruz led the American League in RBIs and had his fourth straight season of hitting above .270. Cruz deserves recognition for playing through a variety of injuries and never being gone for an extended period. He appeared in 155 of 162 games.
ESTABLISHING THE FUTURE: Mike Zunino will be the Mariners catcher going forward. After major struggles at the plate early in his career, Zunino finally established himself as a capable, consistent hitter to go along with his excellent defense. Zunino hit .251 with 25 home runs and 63 RBIs.
Zunino wasn't the only younger player to carve out a place in Seattle's plans going forward. The outfield appears set with Guillermo Heredia, Ben Gamel and Mitch Haniger all posting solid seasons.
ONE OPENING: Most of Seattle's positions appear set going into next season with the Haniger-Heredia-Gamel trio in the outfield, and Kyle Seager and Jean Segura on the left side of the infield and Cano at second. First base would appear to be the only question mark. Danny Valencia and Yonder Alonso were both on one-year contracts.
Cano remains one of the better defensive second basemen in the game but there has been talk in the past of moving him to first later in his career. That could be something Seattle examines in the offseason.