At nine games under .500 with just 35 games to play and eight teams to pass, they’re done, in every way except mathematically. And in retrospect, it’s getting harder to remember why so many people – guilty as charged – were so high on this team.
On the rare good days like Wednesday, when Felix Hernandez is dealing and Nelson Cruz is slugging and Ketel Marte is instigating, you can still catch a faint whiff of the optimism that once permeated the Mariner air.
But that scent long ago turned foul, and what resurfaces every now and then in games like this 8-2 win over the A’s at Safeco Field is just a tease. Or, more to the point, an indictment of the squandered season that is winding to a close without Seattle’s participation in the wide-open playoff chase.
The Mariners are saying all the right things about fighting on and playing hard and not conceding anything. And there’s no sign that they’ve mailed it in, though people tend to misinterpret inconsistent play and poor execution as signs a team has quit, when what it usually means is that the team just isn’t very good.
“We’re playing like we’re in the race,’’ Cruz said Wednesday after knocking his 39th home run. “I don’t think we’re out of the race until we’re done.’’
But at nine games under .500 with just 35 games to play and eight teams to pass, they’re done, in every way except mathematically. And in retrospect, it’s getting harder to remember why so many people – guilty as charged – were so high on this team.
Looking back at the opening-day roster, you’ll find that six players – nearly 25 percent — are no longer in the organization, and three of those (Fernando Rodney, Willie Bloomquist and Rickie Weeks) are no longer with any team.
Three others are mired in the minor leagues (Danny Farquhar, Justin Ruggiano and Tyler Olson – bet you forgot about him). James Paxton and Charlie Furbush are in the midst of long stints on the disabled list, Paxton having contributed just 10 starts to what I thought would be an All-Star-caliber season.
That doesn’t even account for the long list of players who didn’t live up to expectations, including most of the bullpen, everyone who has caught (except the catcher they traded, Welington Castillo) and, for far too long, the belatedly torrid Robinson Cano.
That leads to an obvious question: Did we all overrate the roster, or was it a case of cumulative underachievement? Historians could debate that for months, except for the fact that historians won’t waste much energy on the mess that was the 2015 Mariners.
For the record, I see it as a macabre combination of the two. No doubt I didn’t anticipate the bullpen issues. I thought there would be a slight regression, not a total meltdown. I miscalculated the ability of Dustin Ackley and Logan Morrison to build off of strong second halves in 2014. I way overestimated the breakout potential of Paxton and Taijuan Walker. And I definitely underestimated the weakness of an outfield that was expected to be manned by platoons in left and right that never really materialized.
But it’s not my job to put this team together, or get the most out of the players. Those who do are likely to pay with their job, but another new regime would be faced with a harsh reality: The Mariners have, over the past decade-plus, ascended to the top of the list of bumbling, ineffectual MLB franchises.
You used to be able to count on the Royals or Pirates for that title, but the Royals are coming off a World Series appearance, and the Pirates are headed to the playoffs for the third straight year.
The Blue Jays had MLB’s longest playoff drought at 21 years, but the way they’re rolling, it looks like that dubious distinction will fall to the Mariners at 14 years and counting.
The perennially downtrodden Cubs and Mets both are headed for the postseason. The Astros, after six straight losing seasons (three of them with over 100 losses), are leading Seattle’s division with an exciting young team. This year’s A’s are worse than the Mariners, but they’ve been in the playoffs five times since the Mariners last appeared, at a fraction of the payroll.
That leaves the Mariners squarely with the likes of the Phillies, Marlins and Rockies, none of whom have been above .500 since 2011 or longer. But all three have been in the World Series in the past 12 years, and the first two have titles under their belt. The Mariners and Nationals remain the only two major-league teams never to be in the World Series, though the Nationals appear much closer to breaking that door down.
The Mariners have had just three winning seasons since 2003, despite having the resources to support hefty payrolls. A farm system that was once touted as their ticket out of the dark period is ranked among the worst in baseball, as a series of would-be saviors from the draft have fizzled. And the major-league roster has proven to have far more holes than most people envisioned in April.
It’s a sordid story, one that transcends individual achievements like Cruz’s and isolated victories like Wednesday’s. And it’s getting increasingly hard to see a happy ending within sight.