That good feeling became a wanting ache.
On Sunday, the Mariners celebrated the fact that they had a chance to make the postseason on the final day of the regular season. The adrenaline of playing meaningful baseball in September — something that hasn’t happened in over a decade — permeated Safeco Field.
But on Tuesday with the first pitch of the American League wild-card game just hours away in Kansas City, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon sat in an empty stadium admitting that any content from the 2014 season comes with a caveat of expecting more.
“You put your heart and soul into it, and when it comes to an end, particularly the way it ended for us, it’s a little tough,” McClendon said. “We were so close. To think one game here or one game there, it could make a world of difference.”
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The Mariners finished 87-75, missing the playoffs by one win.
Admittedly, Zduriencik started thinking about missed opportunities, first from games, then to individual plays.
“We might be playing today,” he said.
And that’s why McClendon took pride in a season that saw the Mariners improve by 16 wins, but he won’t be preaching any overall or moral victory.
“I think ultimately as a manager, it’s your job to determine what success and failure is for your team,” he said. “In a lot of ways, we did a lot of great things. In some ways, we didn’t do a lot of great things. All in all, it was a very successful season. But am I satisfied with where we are? No. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely.”
There was a lot to like about the year. The Mariners’ pitching staff posted a team ERA of 3.17, the lowest in franchise history.
But that pitching — particularly the starting rotation — faltered down the stretch with the starting rotation battling injury and fatigue. In the final week, the Mariners were forced to make a bullpen start because Roenis Elias was injured and Chris Young was out of gas. It wasn’t ideal.
“You can just never have enough starting pitching,” Zduriencik said. “We saw it at the end.”
The addition of Robinson Cano (.314 batting average, 14 homers, 82 RBI) and the continued growth of Kyle Seager (team-best 96 RBI) were the strong points of an anemic offense that averaged just 3.91 runs per game with a .244 batting average — second-worst in the AL — and a .676 OPS, the worst in the league.
“From an offensive standpoint, we have to be better,” McClendon said.
Cano and Seager are consistent stalwarts. Logan Morrison and Dustin Ackley seemed to have taken steps as hitters.
Morrison hit .323 with six homers, 20 RBI and an .887 OPS in the final two months of the season. Ackley was in the midst of a second straight season featuring a second-half surge until ankle injuries slowed his production. In the final three months of the season, Ackley hit .274 with 10 homers, 38 RBI and a .776 OPS.
“We have some hitters that took some steps this year,” McClendon said. “But we need them to take more.”
It was a season of improvement in most areas. But it’s not the postseason, and that’s not good enough for McClendon.
“That’s one thing I want to impress upon our fans,” he said. “We are not satisfied with the year we had.”
• Danny Hultzen threw 25 pitches in an instructional game in Arizona on Tuesday morning in front of several Mariners executives, including special assistant to the GM Roger Hansen, director of pro scouting Tom Allison and director of amateur scouting Tom McNamara.
“They were very happy with what they saw,” Zduriencik said. “They said it was very impressive. He’s now finished for the fall. He showed an average fastball, really good curveball and changeup. Delivery was sound.”
Hultzen will report to spring training as a full go. But it’s unlikely he will compete for the opening-day roster.
• Jesus Montero has been working out at the Mariners’ spring-training facility in Arizona since being suspended for an altercation with a scout during a minor-league game. He will spend the offseason in Peoria, Ariz., instead of his native Venezuela.
“He going through a program that should help in many areas on and off the field,” Zduriencik said. “He will be at the complex every day. He’s working out twice a day now. He’ll be under our supervision most of the winter.”
• D.J. Peterson, the team’s top hitting prospect, will receive an invite to major-league spring training with a chance to compete for the big-league roster.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Zduriencik said. “You don’t shut the door on it; let him come in and compete and see what happens.”
• Taijuan Walker will throw in the Arizona Fall League and try to reach a total of 30 innings to build his overall innings count. James Paxton was also scheduled to throw in the fall, but preferred not to pitch.
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or email@example.com