After a 2017 season where the Mariners mostly flirted around .500 the whole season, 2018 was a vast improvement. For really the first time since the 2007 season, the Mariners were comfortably over .500. On top of that, they were not only in the playoff race but in a playoff spot for most of the season.
Whether leading the AL West or the second wild-card spot, the Mariners had people interested. Which is why last year’s collapse was disappointing but not surprising. For one thing, our team was neck-in-neck with the champion Astros! Was it a shame to see them leapfrog us and claim the division for good?
Yes, but remember that they were a more complete team, especially in the pitching department. They were also less fazed by the moment having gone all the way with their same group of guys.
Although the painful collapse wasn’t losing the brief West lead, it was what happened after the All-Star Break. After appearing light years ahead of everyone on the outside looking in, the A’s (not for the first time) took the Mariners’ playoff spot with a sizzling second half. Seriously, no team should be able to sustain what they did.
Yet on the other side of things, the second-half Mariners didn’t exactly help their own cause. You can’t expect to hold onto a wild-card spot with a 31-34 finish. We can praise and salivate over the A’s all we want, our team did it to themselves. But the 2018 Mariners played over their heads. When you have as many walkoffs and one-run wins as the Mariners did, it’s just as much luck as it is a success. Too many of their games were down to the wire and if that’s the case, you’re playing down to every opponent.
Looking back on specific players who contributed to this year’s collapse, doesn’t Robinson Cano come to mind? Now it’s unfair to pin the collapse on one player but the Mariners would not have finished with 89 wins if he hadn’t been suspended.
To lose your three-hole hitter for half the season is devastating and there’s no doubt the Mariners’ offense felt that. No, we weren’t racking up runs with him in the lineup but his presence alone is a difference. And the Mariners already weren’t too power-heavy so you also lost a deep-ball threat as well.
And in a way, Cano should never have resumed play in 2018 either. The Mariners already were getting used to playing without him so the team chemistry was thrown off twice, once when suspended and once when coming back to play again in 2018. So if we’re grading here, the Mariners get a B- 2018 regular season grade, with an asterisk.
The B- is the fact that we hung around as long as we did despite too many close games and a negative run differential. The asterisk is that one of our best hitters missed half the season. We’re now left wondering how much better the team could have played with him.
The 2019 Mariners are turning over and then some. If next year’s first string players look unrecognizable, it’s because they are! Say goodbye to three left fielders in Ben Gamel, Denard Span, and Mr. Suzuki. Say goodbye to your starting catcher, center fielder, middle infielders, designated hitter, ace pitcher, most of the middle relievers, setup man, and closer. That’s not cleaning the house, it’s remodeling it.
While it’s understandable that the Mariners need to move up the ranks in the farm system, this rebuild happened too soon. It was also over-reactive in that the 2018 team had no time to gel and bounce back. So they started hot and missed the playoffs. So what, that happens every year. It doesn’t mean you start over from scratch again. Fans are starving for October back in Seattle again.
Instead of prioritizing farm system, we should have waited for this team out longer. Even though this 2018 core group didn’t play well together down the stretch, they needed more time to find themselves. The Mariners missed the playoffs because they weren’t ready yet. That’s okay, the success doesn’t always happen right away. They caught a bad break with the sizzling A’s but you could tell this team was going to be back in years to come. Now the starting roster will be filled with players most fans probably never heard of.
That’s not to say they won’t pan out and be fun to watch but that’s not the path the Mariners need. The Red Sox and Yankees can more afford to rebuild because they have stronger back pockets than the Mariners do. Their farm systems are always strong, they’re the blue-blood schools of the MLB. People want to play for those two. Look how fast the world champ Sox recovered from their 2015 rebuild. And people dream to wear pinstripes.
But there’s less margin for error with the Mariners. A rebuild shouldn’t occur when a team has missed the playoffs for as long as we have. And it definitely shouldn’t occur when we were SO CLOSE last year to going! That means the right pieces were there, they just weren’t ready yet. But Mariner nation, we still need our positive hats on.
But you can’t help feeling skeptical of how many “rebuilds” the Mariners go through to try and fix this cycle of a playoff drought. I give our offseason grade a D+ for that very reason.
Happy Holidays and never lose loyalty!