Mariners baseball is a constant. Like clockwork, the Seattle rain turns to slightly less Seattle rain. The days begin to lengthen, the weather slowly gets warmer and the Mariners begin to arise from their winter hibernation.
Every year, the hopes of Mariners fans across the country are high as the calendar flips from January to February, February to March and finally March to April. Such as now.
Those long summer months never seem to be long enough. The season slips by and before you know it, the season concludes and the Mariners are on the outside looking in. At least, that’s been one of the constants for the past 17 years.
The Mariners, if nothing else, are consistently a mediocre baseball team. Of course, they’re fun to watch, but when you get down to it, they just have not been good.
The M’s are heading into the 2018 season with the best team that they have had in years. Gone are the days of cleanup hitter Jesus Montero and leadoff hitter Dustin Ackley.
However, the team’s around the Mariners are also coming in strong. Houston is a powerhouse, the Angels have made some key additions and the Rangers always seem to find their way into the mix. But, let’s start with the good.
What does a “good” 2018 look like for the Seattle Mariners? It’s an arbitrary question. For some, “good” means no less than a World Series ring. To others, it may be a postseason berth and still to others, it could mean that the team finishes healthy and continues to build toward the future.
Obviously, the best case scenario would be a World Series ring. But a “good” 2018 season is not so much one of those options as it is a mix of the three. Realistically, a good season would mean a playoff berth, most likely in the form of a Wild Card.
Many things have to go right in this scenario. First and foremost, he pitching staff has to stay healthy. Felix and Paxton both need to make a majority of their starts. If Jerry is intent on keeping the staff the way it is, those two need to be the horses and make something happen.
Felix needs to regain even a glimpse of his former self. Somewhere North of 175 innings pitched for the King and a sub 4.00 ERA are both realistic and attainable for the former Cy Young Award winner.
Paxton is the real X-factor in the equation. If he can stay healthy and pitch like he did in 2017, the M’s are gonna have a real shot at making some noise late in the season. He gives Seattle a true ace and even a possible Cy Young caliber pitcher at their disposal.
The combo of Leake, Erasmo and Gonzales/Miranda/Moore need not be spectacular, but merely serviceable. They have to keep the Mariners in games and give them a chance. If they can do that, the idea of a “good” season is much easier to picture.
Mike Zunino needs to continue his success at the plate. His defense has always been stellar. In the batters box however, Z has been hard to watch at times. If he can build on what he started in 2017, Mike Zunino could really become one of the best players in Baseball, let alone catchers. I’m not saying he has to hit .300 with 30 home runs but if he can keep his average above .250, the season will become a whole lot easier.
The rest of the Mariners lineup has the easiest task: to perform how they should. If each player can roughly stick to their numbers from the 2017 season, the Mariners have easily one of the most potent offenses in the game. A 3-4-5 of Cano, Cruz and Seager complemented by Gordon and Segura up top is hard to beat.
Young kids like Gamel, Haniger and Healy will have a lot to prove in the 2018 season but will have a ton of help around them to ease their growing pains.
The flip side of that coin is not nearly as pretty. A “bad” 2018 for the Seattle Mariners is a version of a complete implosion. Let’s illustrate that real quick and make a quick sacrifice to the Baseball gods begging for this scenario to never see the light of day.
What if Felix still can’t find the zone? The old him is long gone and we are left with the empty shell of a pitcher whose WHIP is over the moon and a K/BB% even makes 2015 Fernando Rodney shudder.
James Paxton’s injury bug comes back to bite him and we see multiple DL stints for our young fireballer? His stuff is not the same as it was the prior year and the radar gun shows a healthy diet of 93 MPH fastballs down the heart of the plate.
Mike Leake, for the first time in his career, isn’t consistent. Neither Erasmo nor starter number five throw more than 130 innings. We see more starts from Christian Bergman due to injuries.
Dee Gordon does not adapt to Centerfield. His costly mistakes in the outfield carry over into his at bats and he begins to falter all around.
Ryan Healy’s strikeout rate rises and his walk rate stays stagnant. An eerie image of Justin Smoak appears on Mariners vision in place of Healy as he steps up to the plate.
Father Time finally catches Nelson Cruz and his trade value drops from what it could have been.
That’s a lot and I’m glad it’s over. Not all of that will happen. Hopefully. Even the Mariners can’t be that unlucky.
Scenario three is the most likely option. The “Mariners” option. A year that does not stand out from any of the others. It is neither as amazing as 2001 or as awful as the 2010 season. More of a 2014/2016 Mariners season.
In this scenario, the dominance of Felix does not return, however he occasionally shows flashes of the King. Paxton gets knocked around here and there but is overall pretty solid.
Again, injuries pop up occasionally, as they do with all teams, but the Disabled List isn’t nearly as messy as it was in 2017.
Dee Gordon doesn’t make a seamless transition but by September people forget he isn’t a natural outfielder. He remains a presence at the top of the lineup.
Seager starts off slow but gets it going about 30 games in. We just can’t wait for that series down in Arlington against the Rangers.
The team as a whole finds themselves in the middle of the Wild Card race and the season comes down to just a few games. Again.
Finally, the 2018 Mariners could be plenty of different things. They could be the 2018 version of the Houston Astros or they could be the 2018 version of the San Francisco Giants. So much can happen between now and October. If history has anything to say about it, the Mariners may again just be the 2018 version of the Seattle Mariners.