After having their record-setting 116-win season in 2001 ended abruptly in the ALDS, the Seattle Mariners haven’t seen the postseason since. Suffice to say, it’s been a long 16 years for baseball fans in the pacific northwest. But entering 2018, there is a strong reason to believe that playoff drought could be coming to an end this season.
2018 will be the Year the Seattle Mariners Playoff Drought Ends
Injury-riddled 2017 Season in the Rear View Mirror
2017 was a frustrating season for the M’s, who were riddled with injuries early and were never able to recover despite hanging around in the AL Wild Card race. The Mariners went through an MLB-record 17 starting pitchers in 2017, with every member of the opening day starting staff spending extended time on the DL and in many cases their replacements following suit. Fortunately, lady luck is bound to be better to them this time around – it couldn’t possibly be worse.
Despite Felix Hernandez’s demise from perennial AL Cy Young candidate status, ‘King Felix’ should still provide the Mariners with frequent quality outings in 2018. Meanwhile, James Paxton will look to build off his breakout 2017 season that saw him produce a sub-three ERA over a full season for the first time in his career. And despite missing time on two separate DL stints, Paxton also finished the year healthier than he ever had been, setting a new career high with 24 starts. The rotation will also be solidified by late-August trade acquisition Mike Leake, who begins his first full campaign in the AL after amassing a career 83-77 record, 3.92 ERA, and 1.28 WHIP over eight seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, and St. Louis Cardinals.
In the field, Mitch Haniger spent 66 days on the disabled list after showing a lot of promise early in the year. Haniger will look to replicate his standout rookie campaign over a full season in right field after slashing .282/.352/.491 in 369 at bats in 2017. Jean Segura also spent two stints on the DL hampered by hamstring and ankle ailments but hit .300 with 22 stolen bases when he was healthy. Meanwhile, Nelson Cruz never actually ended up on the DL, but battled through a nagging quad injury that affected his ability to run for much of the first half.
The moral of the story is that last season’s Mariners group was a playoff caliber roster had they been able to stay healthy, which should show over 162 games in 2018. And over the winter, they got even better.
Additions of Gordon, Healy Completes Mariners Balanced Lineup
Seattle’s marquee off-season addition was speedster Dee Gordon, who they have converted from second base to center field. Gordon will provide the Mariners with a legitimate base-stealer atop the order who has a proven track record of getting himself aboard ahead of bonafide run producers. Gordon hit. 308 with 60 stolen bags and 114 runs scored for the Miami Marlins a season ago, numbers which he should have no trouble duplicating in Seattle. It remains to be seen how Gordon will fare adjusting to his new role in center field, but at the very least his speed will be an asset tracking down fly balls in the big gaps at Safeco Field.
Another important piece GM Jerry Dipoto added was corner infielder Ryon Healy in a trade with the Oakland Athletics. Healy is expected to play primarily at first base, allowing Cruz to be the full-time DH. The Mariners had a bit of a revolving door at first last year, with Danny Valencia, Mike Freeman, and Dan Vogelbach all failing to impress. Healy joins the M’s coming off a 25-homer, 78-RBI campaign, and will look to build upon his first full year in the Majors entering his age 26 season.
Gordon and Healy are both natural fits into the Mariners order, completing what is shaping up to be a very strong lineup in 2018. With Gordon and Segura setting the table and wreaking havoc on the base paths, there should be plenty of RBI opportunities for Cruz, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Healy and Haniger to follow. That will give the M’s good balance offensively, with a handful of contact hitters to spray the ball around the yard as well as legitimate power bats who possess the threat of the long ball.
The bullpen should also be a strength for the Mariners in 2018 after posting a respectable 4.08 bullpen ERA despite being the fourth most worked ‘pen in the American League last season. 24-year-old flamethrower Edwin Diaz struggled with consistency a season ago, but having gained a year of experience should be set up for a more stable season in the closer role. When Diaz is hitting his spots, few arms in the majors can parallel the stuff he brings to the table. The Mariners also return set-up man Nick Vincent as well as key middle relievers David Phelps and James Pazos, while Juan Nicasio was added to the mix from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the off-season.
The AL West is going to be a very competitive division in 2018, with the reigning world champion Houston Astros remaining the obvious favorites to once again take the division crown. The Los Angeles Angels are also much improved, while the young A’s may be ready to take steps towards contending for a Wild Card spot this season. But the talent is certainly there for the Mariners, who will field the franchise’s best roster in recent memory on opening day. If the injury bug is willing to co-operate, the pieces are in place for Manager Scott Servais to guide this Mariners team to the postseason for the first time since 2001.
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