Mariners in annual freefall

By Matt Verderame

Every year it seems, the Seattle Mariners break Spring Training with the optimism of a club on the brink of a title. There are stories written about Seattle and how this is the year for a franchise that has never been to a World Series, dating back to its inaugural campaign of 1977.

Of course, the city of Seattle is used ot being disappointed. Outside of the Seattle Seahawks winning the Super Bowl in 2013, the Emerald City has watched as its NBA franchise, the Seattle Supersonics, got swept away to Oklahoma City by a new owner in Clay Bennett. Before that, the Supersonics were a perennial power in the 1990s, only to reach one NBA Finals amid myriad early-round disappointments. It lost in that Finals appearance, by the way.

This year, many believed the Mariners could contend in what was shaping up to be a weak American League. While the Kansas City Royals are defending World Series champs, they lost a couple of key cogs to the National League in Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto. The New York Yankees are as down as they have ben since the 1980s while the West offered no team with the look of a 90-win club.

Early on, the Mariners were playing along with the bit of contender, staying even or better with the Texas Rangers while the Houston Astros, the preseason pick of many to become a legitimate force this year, struggled to the bottom of the standings. Flash forward to the night of June 22, and the Mariners are 36-36 and have fallen 10.5 games behind the Rangers and a half-game behind the surging Astros, who finally have some problems sorted out.

For Seattle, it is the same story of mediocrity but for different reasons. The middle of the lineup is dangerous with Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyole Seager anchoring the attack. For once, they are not alone in terms of producing, with offseason pickup Leonys Martin and international import Dae-Ho Lee hitting as well, combining for 20 home runs while each sports an on-base percentage of .325 or better. Cruz has 16 homers and a .366 on-base, while Seager has another 15 blasts.

Cano, who signed a mega 10-year, $225 million deal before last season, is bouncing back from a miserable 2015 campaign. The slugging second baseman leads the team in batting average (.297), home runs (19) and RBI (53) while continuing to play second base at a Gold Glove level.

So what is the issue? Pitching. For years, Seattle had a good rotation but no ability to hit. Now, the Mariners have a nice lineup but a one-horse staff. Feliz Hernandez is the only reliable starter and when he went down with a calf injury in late May, the season may have gone down with him. Youngster Taijuan Walker is sporting a 3.45 ERA, but only has six quality starts in 14 attempts. Veterans Hisashi Iwakuma and Wade Miley have been disasters, racking up ERAs of 4.45 and 5.28, respectively.

At this point, Seattle has to hope for the AL Wild Card Game. The Mariners are only three games behind the Toronto Blue Jays for the final postseason spot.

It’s unfortunately the same narrative every year for the Mariners. Even if the storyline is switched around this time.