On Friday night, minutes after another Mariners victory, Logan Morrison performed a silly clubhouse dance to the Miley Cyrus song “We Can’t Stop.” His moves didn’t include twerking, thankfully. He wouldn’t want to get carried away halfway through the long baseball season.
The little burst of joy was appropriate, however. The Mariners are at the midpoint of 162 games, and they’re 43-38, and if the season ended today, they would be in the playoffs as the American League’s second wild-card team. They’ve done it with great starting and relief pitching, improved defense and a Robinson Cano-led offense that manages to do just enough in between its bouts of struggle.
This is no longer a good start, or a hot streak. The Mariners are a solid ballclub on an 86-win pace. But for the cynical, that only means the disappointment will be greater when they fall apart later this summer.
As good as the Mariners are going right now, they should be fiercely protective of their status. They should realize that, for all the good manager Lloyd McClendon has done using the entire 25-man roster to mask weaknesses, they still need more to survive as a playoff contender. For proof, you needed only to watch them strain to get one hit against Cleveland’s Josh Tomlin on Saturday night.
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The first half of the season should empower general manager Jack Zduriencik to make this team even better over the next month. With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaching, the Mariners deserve the opportunity to go as far as they can with this team.
Without question, their priority should be finding a bat capable of making an impact on a lineup that is the third-worst hitting team in the American League. The Mariners need help in the middle of the order, and even at the top, they’re still piecing it together with 36-year-old reserve Endy Chavez in the leadoff spot and unexpected rookie hit James Jones batting second. But interestingly, most of the trade rumors have Zduriencik looking for another top-notch starting pitcher, which seems unconventional but could be necessary to protect the Mariners’ greatest strength.
In recent weeks, the Mariners have made it known that they’re willing to do what it takes to make this ballclub better. They can convince ownership to add to the payroll if they find a good trade or two.
It won’t be easy, even with the commitment. Major League Baseball expanded its postseason in 2012, and the addition of another wild card in league means most every team carries its playoff hopes deeper into the season. There might be fewer sellers at this year’s trade deadline, and for those teams that give in, the asking price for talent could be higher than usual.
The Mariners also don’t have a great amount of young talent that they’d be willing to trade simply for a 2014 playoff push. Zduriencik has cautioned against “selling the farm.” But for an organization that has spent so much time raising the kids with uneven results, they would be wise not to overvalue unproven players if there are proven veterans on the market.
It’s really not a question of whether the Mariners will make a trade. Zduriencik will do something. But how far should the franchise go? The answer lies in how much they believe in this team.
“I think we have a really good team,” Morrison said. “I don’t care what anybody else thinks. You turn on the TV, and in our division, people are talking about Oakland and the Angels, and then they talk about how Texas has fallen because of injuries. They never talk about us. That’s good with us. We’ll just be under the radar. But we’re going to get our respect when it counts.”
The Mariners should expect that it will take at least 90 wins to make the playoffs. This may be a season in which no one separates, and you can sneak in with 85. But they should assume it will take 90, at minimum. As much as I like this team, I can’t see it winning 90 games as currently constructed.
McClendon has done an excellent job getting the most out of a limited roster by mixing and matching and turning injuries into opportunities for reserves to shine. But he takes little credit for this and often expresses his dislike for the lack of consistency.
The Mariners could receive a boost if they can get healthy. When first baseman Justin Smoak and designated hitter Corey Hart return from rehab assignments, the team will be healthy for the first time all season. Zduriencik needs a glimpse of how the pieces fit when everyone is available.
But he should also know that there are holes. They need better production from the outfield, at first base and at designated hitter. If Zduriencik can upgrade in any of those areas, especially the outfield, he should pull the trigger. The Mariners have improved greatly, but they can’t be satisfied.
“It seems like we’re more in sync as a whole team than we have been in the past,” outfielder Michael Saunders said. “We’re playing good baseball, and it’s showing.”
They’re playing good enough to warrant reinforcements. If the Mariners find the opportunity to go for it, they shouldn’t hesitate.