The “step-back” season of 2019 mercifully came to a close Sunday for the Mariners with something that only happened about once every three games after their 13-2 start to the season – a victory. A group of seven Mariners, working in short bursts of either two or one inning, combined to lead Seattle to a 3-1 win over the Oakland A’s.
The win is slightly skewed because the A’s clinched a postseason spot Friday and home-field advantage for the American League wild-card game Saturday and either sat or barely played their key starting position players. But the Mariners also played most of their young players as well because the game had no meaning beyond the season record.
In an obvious juxtaposition, Seattle finished the season with a 68-94 record while the A’s ended with a 97-65 record. In a year where they weren’t expected to win many games, the Mariners didn’t. Their 68 wins are the lowest total since the 2011 team finished 67-95. They finished 39 games out of first place in the American League West and yet had a better record than four teams in the American League and one in the National League, meaning they will have the sixth overall pick in the 2020 MLB draft.
“We have completed the journey,” manager Scott Servais said. “It is a marathon and I think everyone feels it today. There were certainly some positive things to take out of this season as we continue to move forward with our plan. We found out a lot about a lot of players. I think that was the goal and we accomplished that.”
The Mariners used 67 players this season. Only 13 players that were on the Mariners’ opening-day roster in Japan were on the 40-man roster to end the season.
“We knew what we were getting into,” Servais said. “When you expect the expected, then you knew it was going to be a challenge. With all the different bodies it was challenging. But with the young guys coming in and the vibe, the feel around this team in the clubhouse going forward, it’s definitely positive. Now we have to build on that.”
Rookie right-hander and touted prospect Justin Dunn got the shortened start Sunday, tossing two shutout innings without allowing a hit while issuing one walk and striking out three batters. After having his nerves affect his command and performance in his first two outings, Dunn has slowly grown more comfortable on the mound. And with that, his obvious talent has been evident. Dunn has allowed just one hit and one walk with four strikeouts in his past four innings pitched — all scoreless.
“He’s gained a lot of confidence,” Servais said. “It was a very limited exposure, but it was good for him to end the season on a positive note against Houston and Oakland. He can build upon that.”
Even with that small sample size, it showed that Dunn’s stuff can get quality big-league hitters out at the big-league level.
“I mean I knew, but to finally see it pay off is huge,” he said.
He will have an offseason to prepare for a spring-training competition for a vacant spot in the 2020 opening-day rotation.
“I got my feet wet up here and I can go into the offseason knowing I belong here,” he said. “I feel like I did it my last two times out. I know the little things I have to work on to get better to really stick and succeed.”
Two players named Kyle, who have very different standings within the organization, provided all of the offense for Seattle.
Kyle Seager, Seattle’s stalwart third baseman, smashed a two-run homer in the first inning off A’s starter Tanner Roark for an early lead. Kyle Lewis, the talented rookie and once-prized prospect, smoked an RBI double to right-center in the fifth inning. It was one of two hits in the game for Lewis.
Seager finished the season with a .239/.321/.468 slash line (batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage), 19 doubles, a triple, 23 homers and 63 runs batted in in just 106 games. The bulk of those numbers came in his final 60 games, when he hit .280 with a on-base plus slugging percentage over .900, 12 doubles, a triple, 17 homers and 45 RBI. After spending all offseason to reshape his body, he missed the first two months after an injury that required surgery in spring training and a month of struggles when he came off the injured list.
“It’s something to build off going forward,” he said. “I’ve felt much better throughout the year. I was physically in much better shape. And I was able to rotate more and much more flexible. And at the same time (hitting coach) Tim Laker and our hitting guys, they were pretty special. It was awesome to work with them.”
With Felix Hernandez headed for free agency, Seager will be the only player remaining on the roster from the previous teams constructed by former general manager Jack Zduriencik. Seager’s contract makes him unlikely to be traded. He’s in this rebuild for the next two seasons and he’s started to embrace it.
Lewis, a touted first-round pick in 2016, played in career-high 140 games this season, including 18 games with the Mariners as a September call-up. He finished with a .268/.293/.592 slash line, five doubles, six homers and 13 RBI in 18 games.