BY Art Thiel 06:14PM 10/04/2015

Thiel: Mariners, the open wound of the AL West

Mariners’ 3-2 win over Oakland does little to ease fans’ aggravation over the bigger story — the Rangers and Astros, after terrible seasons in 2014, leaped over Seattle into the playoffs.

Lloyd McClendon said he was “proud” of his 76-win team this year. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

Varied are the ways to look at the Mariners’ habitual sports agony. But since they lost nine of their final 11 games in 2015, all to American League West foes — the 3-2 win Sunday over Oakland averted a franchise first: Getting swept at home in the final series by a 90+-loss team — let’s take a look within the division.

The Texas Rangers were the American League’s worst team in 2014 at 67-95, then lost to injury in spring their ace, Yu Darvish, plus their star young second baseman, Jurikson Profar. Yet they improved 21 games, including Sunday’s 9-2 win over the Angels, to claim the division title with an 88-74 record.

The once-woebegone Astros also made the AL  playoffs as the second wild card with 86 wins — one fewer than the Mariners in 2014, and 17 better than Houston did a year ago. And that was after three consecutive 100-loss seasons.

Through player development and trading acumen, the Rangers and Astros healed themselves in a single season. In this century, at least after 2001, the Mariners have never healed themselves. They are the open wound of the division, if not for all of MLB, given that their 14-year absence from the playoffs is the game’s longest drought.

Since MLB created the current six-division format in 1995, the Mariners have won a mere three division titles  (1995, 1997 and 2001) — in baseball’s smallest division (until the Astros showed up in 2013 to make it five teams).

Those three are the only division titles in the club’s 39 years (they made one other playoff appearance as a wild card in 2000). I realize a division title is a relatively modest achievement, but the Mariners have somehow turned it into Everest. How hard can it be to be better than three other teams just once in half a generation?

Since the 2001 Seattle season of 116 wins — with each passing year, it takes on the freakishness of a snowstorm in Panama — the AL West title has been won six times by Anaheim, five by Oakland and three by Texas.

What further galls the remaining fan base is that none of the division franchises have the ballpark, the ownership wealth or the regional market monopoly the Mariners have. Yet all those advantages have translated into squat.

The final 76-86 record is hardly terrible, especially in parity-ridden MLB. The aggravation comes from the fact that every team over 14 years has figured it out faster than the Mariners, who keep getting leap-frogged.

As all school children know by now, the dithering of CEO Howard Lincoln has cost the franchise dearly. Lloyd McClendon is the eighth manager (including interim appointees) since the 2002 departure of Lou Piniella, and Jerry Dipoto, the fourth general manager under Lincoln, probably is going to hire shortly the ninth successor to Piniella.

Even Lincoln, after Dipoto’s introductory press conference last week, admitted that perpetual turmoil was costly.

“We’ve had a number of field managers; that’s not a good thing,” he said. “There’s always an explanation for it. But the fact remains, we’ve had a number field managers. I’d prefer for that not to continue on.

“But I’m also cognizant of the fact that Jerry has to make the decisions, not me. If he chooses to go in a different direction, as I’ve said, I’ll support him.”

Asked Sunday after the game if he thought it was absurd that after only two years (of .500 ball) his tenure was precarious, McClendon laughed.

“No,” he said. “You guys told me my job was precarious the day I stepped on campus.”

We did. We were right — despite his oft-quoted phrase from his introductory presser that a “golden age” was upon Mariners baseball.

“I still feel that,” he said, then launched into a modest soliloquy that sounded like an attempt to save his job. “This club is in a much better position now than when I got here. There are a lot of good things going on.

“There’s an emerging superstar in (RHP) Taijuan Walker. I think he’ll anchor this staff for a long time. We have a nice group of core players, championship-quality players. We need players around the edges to make us better.

“I’m proud of where this club is now, compared to where it was when I took over.”

That’s true, at least regarding the fact that the final season of his predecessor, Eric Wedge, had 71 wins. But if one were to ask 10 longtime baseball executives which teams’ futures he would choose among the Rangers, Astros and Mariners, my bet is on the Mariners to finish third on all 10 ballots.

While McClendon and Dipoto tout the core group of players (Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Felix Hernandez, maybe Ketel Marte someday), they don’t fill many spots. Dipoto said that the everyday lineup needs more length, the rotation needs more depth and the bullpen needs more layers. Other than that, the garlic fries remain good.

It’s true that the Mariners aren’t terrible — they had a club-record and major league-high 23 extra-inning games, and 27 of their defeats came in the opponents’ last at-bat, also a major league high. They played almost every game close, just not necessarily well.

A game of thin margins has grown even more difficult because of dominant pitching. It’s Dipoto’s belief that every bit of information counts, no matter how esoteric it may seem. But if McClendon feels as does Angels manager Mike Scioscia — Dipoto’s manager in his previous post — that games were won and lost for many years before advanced analytics became available, then he will have to be happy joining Scioscia on a couch this fall watching the playoffs.

That means another change of managers in Seattle. As Lincoln said, it’s too much.

Then again, as this season and its 13 predecessors have proven, it’s never enough.


YourThoughts

  • ReebHerb

    I wish the Mariners best luck for 2016. The side stories always provide a little interest. Who will build the fastest? Seattle or Oakland?

    • art thiel

      In an A’s-M’s race, I always bet the Beane.

  • Bayview Herb

    The true test of the new general manager’s purpose is if he immediately moves to resign Iwakuma and Gutierrez. If he doesn’t, look for a long drought

    • art thiel

      First test is choosing a manager.

    • Lodowick

      As long as Guti’s and Iwakuma’s agents don’t want multi-year contracts.

      • Bayview Herb

        I think considering the sad state the pitching staff is in, a two year contract with maybe a club option would be a good deal with Iwakuma. As far as Gutierrez, due to health issues, his contract would have t be front loaded with incentives rather than guarantees

  • Sam Base

    No doubt about it the Mariners have long been and still are a bewildering mess. I don’t know if baseball scientists stand a better chance of turning things around or baseball witches, but I’m leaning toward the latter. If anyone out there is handy with cauldrons, potions, and spells please report to the Mariners office on Halloween. They need you. We all do.

    • art thiel

      Good to hear from the Hogwarts Division of Mariners fandom.

      • Bayview Herb

        Do you think McLendon’s removal is inevitable?

        • art thiel

          Not inevitable, but likely. I think Edgar’s safe.

  • 1coolguy

    Jack Z was simply a total failure. Just one more in the line after Gillick left, the M’s all-time MVP.

    • art thiel

      Don’t know about total. He found some players, but fewer than his colleagues across baseball.

    • dingle

      I wouldn’t get all misty-nostalgic about Gillick. All time MVP? Not even close. He completely depleted the farm system and gave up way too much to build a “win now” team. With no draft picks and an old roster, the Mariners soon started their current ongoing descent into lousiness.

      • 1coolguy

        I respectfully disagree, and if these stats don’t change your mind then you are being a bit unreasonable:

        Toronto GM: World Series wins 1992 and 1993

        M’s GM: World record tieing wins in a season @ 116.

        Phillies GM: World series win 2008.

        Arguably the Phillies roster would have been the M’s if he had stayed.

        Hall of Fame, 2011.

        He got the H out of Seattle and went onto the Phillies, who actually understood his value.

        Oh, and also, the last playoff appearance was with Gilick as GM.

        ALL four years attendance was OVER 3 million. It hasn’t been since he left.

        Yeah, he was a real dud, wasn’t he?

        • art thiel

          Gillick wasn’t a dud, but in TOR, BALT and SEA, he burned through franchise resources (draft picks And prospects) to acquire win-now vets. It largely worked, but each club paid a long-term price. Took years for TOR and BALT to get back to playoffs, and as you know, SEA has yet to do so.

          Not all Gillick’s fault, but he contributed to future shortfalls.

        • dingle

          I’m not terribly interested in what he did in his other stops, since last time I checked we were talking about his effect on the Mariners. His one claim to fame in Seattle is the 116-win season – a great accomplishment, but fluky, and only one year.

          He gutted the farm system in an attempt to win now. They didn’t win, and they got old, and couldn’t rebuild. My assessment stands.

  • Tian Biao

    Thanks, Art – it’s always nice to know that we Mariner fans are not alone. in fact we all know what an open wound this franchise is. but at least we have company.

    my feeling about McLendon is that he is old school; he doesn’t appreciate defense (although he had precious little to work with on that account; still, starting Miller at shortstop was egregious) and I’ve always objected to his tendency to bunt runners from second to third with nobody out. Why would you do that? the runner is already in scoring position. and what good does one run do? this is the AL: swing away baby, let’s have a big inning here. plus the M’s have a bunch of high-strikeout guys, so pretty soon it’s two out and a man on third. yet Lloyd did it time and time again. very annoying.

    in fact, all things M’s are annoying, but that is our lot, and we are in it for the long haul, for better or for worse. here’s hoping Dipoto knows what he’s doing. If not, it’s strike three (Bavasi and Zduriencik) for Lincoln.

    • art thiel

      Don’t forget about green-lighting baserunners with little hope of making it.

    • Bayview Herb

      I attended the first game played by the mariners many years ago. The only thing that will save me now, is dying of old age.

  • Tman

    I was witness to the 8000/night attendance for Mariners games at the Kingdome, The Griffey/Edgar/Buhner/Randy Johnson 45,000 fans in safeco era, Steve “Rainbow” Trout allowing 5 runs to score in the first inning of his first appearance as a Mariner without a bat leaving the shoulder of the hitters at the plate. I saw Ichiro, one of the greatest players in history, (you could not get this guy out in the early years) in his last stanzas as a mariner, walk to the plate totally disinterested, strikeout, and return expressionless to the dugout. Worst of all, I found myself refusing free tickets for 3rd row box seats behind home plate two years ago and have not returned. Good luck Mr. Dipoto. It may take 3 years to get fans to the show… give us some excitement, the freedom to give the umps a hard time and let us move to better seats when the opportunity presents itself and we’ll be back.

    • art thiel

      Tman, you have suffered enough to justify your position. I don’t know, however, where you’ll get your bobblehead fix.

      • Tman

        Online. I found a two for one Bobby Ayala/Heathcliff Slocum deal at BobbleheadsRus.com

      • JoeBlow

        Man, Tman you sure got it right about the Mariners. Fans castigated for giving the umps a hard time (without bad language). Its a baseball game, not a tiddlywinks contest.

  • notaboomer

    dipoto failed his first test as gm: not getting the team to lose its way to a protected top 10 draft pick yesterday. as if losing is so hard for the mariners.

    • art thiel

      They also won their way out of drafting Stephen Strasburg.

    • lorraa7654

      as Norma said I didnt even know that a single mom can get paid $9549 in one month on the computer . more tips here ?????

      http://HEYCHANGEYOURDESTINY