Our previews of the AL West continue, with the next team in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2018 season, the Seattle Mariners, who finished in third place in the division last season
After the Buffalo Bills made the NFL playoffs this season, the Mariners now hold the longest active streak in the four major U.S. pro sports leagues without making the postseason. They last made it to the playoffs in 2001, and they’ll have to improve upon their 78-84 from last season if they want 2018 to be the year they again play deep into October. They traded for a couple of hitters this winter, with 1B Ryon Healy and OF Dee Gordon joining the team. They also signed RP Juan Nicasio and OF Ichiro Suzuki, who last played for the team in 2012 when he was a teammate of SP Felix Hernandez, who has had trouble staying healthy over the last couple of seasons.
The Mariners’ .259 average last season put them in the top half of Major League Baseball, but their 200 home runs and .749 OPS were both below the league average. DH Nelson Cruz hit .288 with a team-high 39 home runs and 119 RBI to go along with a .924 OPS. 3B Kyle Seager hit .249 with 27 home runs, and 2B Robinson Cano added 23 homers and 97 RBI with a .280 average. SS Jean Segura hit .300 with 11 home runs and 22 steals in 125 games. OF Mitch Haniger hit .282 with 16 home runs in 96 games. With the Marlins, Gordon hit .308 with 60 steals and Ichiro hit .255. Healy hit .271 with 25 homers for the A’s.
The pitchers’ 4.46 ERA placed them in the bottom half of the majors, and their 1,244 strikeouts were the 10th-fewest in the league. The bullpen recorded 39 saves, which matched the league average. SP James Paton put up the best numbers among the starters, with a 2.98 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 136 innings over 24 starts. Hernandez posted a 4.36 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 86.2 innings over 16 starts. SP Mike Leake made five starts for the team last season, putting up a 2.53 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 32 innings, and P Marco Gonzales made 10 appearances — seven starts — with the Mariners after being traded from the Cardinals, striking out 30 with a 5.40 ERA in 36.2 innings. RP Edwin Diaz recorded 34 saves in 66 appearances, posting a 3.27 ERA with 89 strikeouts in 66 innings.
Adding Gordon to the lineup gives the team a speedy player who can get on base, but he doesn’t give them much power. Ichiro doesn’t have much left at this point at the age of 44 and he will serve as a backup in his return to the team. So they’re going to rely on the likes of Cruz, Cano and Seager for their power output. Hernandez is the key to the pitching. He used to be the team’s ace, but Paxton seems to have claimed that title now, even though Hernandez will be starting on Opening Day. He hasn’t made more than 25 starts in either of the last two seasons, though, and his ERA has been on a steady climb over the last three years. He’ll have to right the ship and get his ERA back down closer to his 3.20 career ERA to give the team a second ace behind Paxton, whose ERA has steadily improved in recent seasons. This is Gonzales’ first full season in the majors but he hasn’t had much success in his brief stints in the big leagues to date. If he can live up to his potential, that would help the Mariners stay in teams by keeping opponents from scoring too many runs.
The Mariners finished in third place in the division last season and they’re probably still the third-best team in the AL West. The Astros are clearly the best team in the division and the Angels are likely ahead of the Mariners as well, especially with moves they made this offseason like signing Zack Cozart and Shohei Ohtani. If their young players keep improving, they could compete for a playoff spot in the coming years, but I think the American League has too many good teams for this to be the year the Mariners end their playoff drought.