Note: This Crunch Time column was printed in the May 28 issue of the Cheney Free Press
It’s been a roller coaster start for the Seattle Mariners.
Fans took on a positive attitude after the Mariners signed a few new faces – including home run king Nelson Cruz and left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ and others — as well as some old favorites such as Kyle Seager and Felix Hernandez. Many writers predicted the ball club would enter the postseason — some even labeled them as a World Series contender.
Then reality set in. Seattle (22-23 as of press time) currently sits in fourth place in the American League West division. They won 18 of their first 40 games, to which Seattle fans have said “they’re playing like the Mariners of old.” Lately the team looked impressive in their series against the Toronto Blue Jays where they won 2 of 3 games.
This is the optimist in me, but sports fans, we have to remember that this is just the start of the season.
In a recent interview manager Lloyd McClendon, who is leading the team for the second season, believes his team hasn’t hit their stride yet.
“I think we’ve done everything we could to shoot ourselves in the foot the first 40 games of the season,” McClendon said before the Mariners’ May 21 game against the Baltimore Orioles. “Other than that, I think we’re like a club that’s spinning our wheels right now.”
Different factors have contributed to the Mariners’ losses. In some cases it was fielding errors, others it was the lack of hits — the normal things fans see from a team that goes into a slump.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik sees the players as part of the problem. In an interview on the 710 ESPN “Brock and Salk” show, he said the team has many players who are still trying to figure out their roles.
“I really hope they will live up to their expectations,” Zduriencik said in the interview. “I hope they do it sooner than later. We all do. Our fanbase does.”
Others have been questioning McClendon’s recent shifting of the batting order, moving left-handed Logan Morrison to the seventh spot in the lineup. Morrison is seventh on the team in batting (.234).
One recent experiment that seems to be working for Seattle is Brad Miller, who began the season as the starting shortstop after Chris Taylor broke his wrist during spring training. After Miller made four fielding errors, Taylor was called up to the starting position. Miller was put in a “super-utility role” and has played in various positions, including the outfield. He earned the “AL Player of the Week” honors earlier this month.
The Mariners have experienced other positives early in their season, most notably Cruz.
After Cruz signed with the Mariners in 2014, critics questioned if he would be an asset to the team and cited his age and previous use of performance enhancing drugs as reasons for their doubt. Not only has Cruz delivered at bat — currently leading the American League in batting (.343 average), home runs (17) and RBIs (35), but also he’s getting more playing time in the outfield.
Cruz seemed to be fine with the move, saying that “DH (designated hitter) is boring.”
Another Mariner who is doing well in his first season with the team is Happ, who is 3-1 on the mound and is becoming one of Seattle’s most consistent starters behind Hernandez.
And let’s not forget King Felix, who is 7-1. On May 10 against the Oakland Athletics, he recorded his 2,000th strikeout, becoming the fourth-youngest player to reach that milestone.
It’s still early in the season for the Mariners. They’ll will get plenty of chances in the summer and early fall to move up the AL West ladder. I don’t think they’ll win every game, but there’s still hope for a playoff berth.