Cheney Free Press -

 
 

By JOHN McCALLUM
Editor 

End of baseball season means beginning of questions for M's

Crunch Time

 


By the time you read this there will be just four days left in the 2013 Major League Baseball season.

Four days remaining for playoff contenders to make it in or solidify either a division title or one of two wildcard spots. For the rest of the teams, it’s four days until reflection time.

And, once again, that includes the Seattle Mariners. It has now been 12 years since the last playoff appearance, six years since the last .500 season and the end of season three in general manager Jack Zduriencik’s rebuilding program.

And where are we at after all this? Well, we’re not in last place in the American League West – thanks to the addition of the Houston Astros. That’s a start.

And maybe it’s an end too, because the rest really doesn’t look that good. Even if somehow the M’s won the last five games, that would give them a 73-89 record, two games worse than last year’s 75-87.

That was a six-game improvement over 2011, and many thought this was the year when we at least – at least – finished above .500.

Sure, the M’s are still a relatively young squad, fourth in baseball at 27.4 years of age on average and followed only by Miami, Chicago White Sox and Houston. Ironically Seattle is tied with St. Louis in this category – and my Cards are about to win the NL Central.

Sweet!

There has been some improvement in hitting, a weakness the past couple years. Individually promising talent like Justin Smoak, Kyle Seager and Dustin Ackley look to have finally broken through some, and veteran Raul Ibanez showed that age is but a number.

But as of Tuesday, the Mariners ranked 28th in batting average, 26th in on-base percentage, 21st in runs and 20th in slugging percentage. For the record, there are 30 teams in ML baseball, and while maybe some improvement is shown, those rankings are still too close to those of the past 2-3 years.

With pitching, it’s great that Felix Hernandez is under contract for a long time and Hisashi Iwakuma seems to be the real deal. After that though there are big question marks.

After the move to Safeco, good pitching became somewhat of a hallmark of the M’s. This is the first year they’ve moved the outfield fences in, thanks to hitters’ whining, and one wonders if the numbers reflect that: 27th in ERA, 24th in opponents batting average, 23rd in WHIP – walks plus hits per inning – and 19th in quality starts.

And so once again the Mariners and their fans are facing another disappointing season and an off-season of questions. For starters, how long is Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge’s rebuilding program supposed to last?

Sure, some of the young players were probably thrown into the Major League fire too soon, and there is plenty of promise, but how long before we star to see some of that promise fulfilled.

What do we do with some of the veterans? Ibanez should re-up, not only because he had decent numbers at age 41, but also he’s a clubhouse leader that’s sorely needed.

Kendrys Morales did a good job at DH, and should be kept too. But what about players like Michael Saunders and Jason Bay? Injuries played roles in these guys’ performances, but management needs to ask if they underachieved, or if that’s all they have?

The same goes with Franklin Gutierrez. Once again spending more time on DL than in the outfield, the M’s need to ask how much longer we can have faith that he can stay healthy.

And pitching? Is it time to bring up young talent and let them sink or swim, like we did with the offense, or is there enough young talent to go around, meaning keep some and trade some for veterans?

And maybe the biggest question is will Zduriencik and Wedge be the ones making these decisions? We’ll know more soon, the postseason is just around the corner.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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