Salute this Mariners season as a moderate success. Acknowledge the 10-game improvement from last year and laud the countless comebacks. But once you’re done commending, it’s time to start demanding.
In the spirit of the Ryder Cup, go ahead and give the 2016 Mariners a golf clap.
They don’t deserve thunderous applause, but they don’t deserve boos or silence, either.
This was a team with .500 talent that scrapped its way to 86 wins. This was a team that willed its way back to relevance while playing in relative obscurity.
In early September, the Mariners were six games out of the wild-card race with five teams between them and the final spot. But instead of packing it in, they poured it on, winning 16 of their next 22 before being eliminated Saturday night.
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So for the briefest of moments, salute this season as a moderate success. Acknowledge the 10-game improvement from last year and laud the countless comebacks.
But once you’re done commending, it’s time to start demanding. It’s time to insist that this team end its playoff drought next year.
“I’m not in it to finish above .500,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We’re in it to get into the playoffs.”
With most teams, you’d say that seems to be where they’re headed, but this feels strikingly similar to 2014, no? The Mariners made a late-season push, teased the fans, then fell short of the postseason as the buzzer sounded.
Six months later, “World Series or bust” talk surrounded Seattle as opening day neared. But six months after that, the M’s wrapped their season up with 76 wins.
Based on this franchise’s history — based on these fruitless 15 years — you could understand why locals would expect a regression after this season. In their inkblot, they see an aging core in Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz.
They likely assume the 223 home runs this year were more exception than rule, and that the ninth-inning pixie dust was used more liberally than normal.
So why should fans believe this team is going to get better?
“If you look at everything here, there’s stuff to build with, which is nice,” said Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, adding that this is “without question” the best position his team has been in going forward since he arrived. “We got close in ’14, but it didn’t have the same feel. This was a group, especially during this stretch, where we felt like we were going to win every game.”
A “feel,” though, isn’t something a front office can use as a catalyst going forward. Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto deserves praise for enhancing this team in his first year, but this is a more critical offseason than last year’s.
The Mariners need a shortstop and a consistent first baseman. They need depth in the rotation should the injury bug get hungry again.
They need to go on a scavenger hunt to find the 10 extra wins necessary to win a division title — or at least five extra wins to secure the wild card. Think of Dipoto’s initial season as the first draft and the next one as the primary edit. Masterpieces are made in the revision process.
It isn’t just on the execs, though. It’s on the players, too. It’s up to them to recognize how close they came this year and the extra effort required to finally break through.
Servais hinted at it in his postgame presser Sunday, calling on Hernandez to make adjustments and get in better shape so as to maximize his inning count. Felix seems to concur, telling the media that he would participate in winter ball for the first time since 2003.
But that’s all just talk right now.
The truth is, seasons like the one the Mariners had are exhausting. To expend all that energy and focus and not make the playoffs can create a hangover effect we’ve seen in other sports. It can also provide the necessary impetus to say “enough is enough” and finally get to a 163rd game.
And after all this time, after all these years, the latter is the only acceptable scenario.