The Seattle Mariners entered the 2015 Major League Baseball season with championship aspirations, but their inconsistent play has them toward the bottom of the American League standings.

Before the season, ESPN’s Buster Olney (h/t SB Nation) predicted that the Mariners would face the Pittsburgh Pirates in this year’s World Series. However, things haven’t gone as planned for Seattle so far in 2015.

The team ended April with an unimpressive 10-12 record. The Mariners began the month of May with a 1-5 record, including a sweep at the hands of the American League West-leading Houston Astros.

The team returned home for a nine-game home stand and seems to be back on the rise. The Mariners have a 6-4 record in their last 10 games, including a sweep of the Oakland Athletics.

After an up-and-down start to the season, here are a few storylines that have taken shape for Seattle so far in 2015.


Pitching has been a glaring weakness instead of strength

The biggest thing that made the Mariners a legit World Series contender this offseason was their elite pitching staff. However, the team’s starting rotation and bullpen have been less than satisfactory so far this season.

Felix Hernandez has proven why he’s one of the best pitchers in the game today, with an impressive 6-1 record and a 2.30 ERA. Hernandez also recently passed Jamie Moyer for the franchise record with 2,115.1 innings pitched. Even the great ones fall, though, as Hernandez struggled with his command early and often in a 4-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Saturday.

The team’s highly touted young pitchers have demonstrated both inexperience and erratic play so far this season. Taijuan Walker, 22, has looked inconsistent this season since allowing just two runs in 27 innings pitched during spring training. James Paxton, 26, has allowed 4.15 runs per nine innings pitched this season after entering 2015 with high hopes.

Last season, the Mariners bullpen was widely considered one of the best in the major leagues, led by All-Star closer Fernando Rodney. This season, the bullpen has squandered many leads late in games, and Rodney hasn’t capitalized on his opportunities. Rodney has recorded an abysmal 5.65 ERA so far this season, including a 5.87 ERA against right-handed batters.

The pitching staff has also suffered key injuries so far this season. Hisashi Iwakuma, one of the best No. 2 pitchers in the league, suffered a right lateral strain on May 12 and is on the team’s disabled list until possibly late June. Relief pitcher Tyler Olson suffered a right knee contusion on May 3 and isn’t due to return until later this month.

On the positive side, the pitching staff struggled early last season before the team’s red-hot performance after the All-Star break. If Seattle hopes to earn its first postseason bid since 2001, its pitching staff will have to turn it around.


Nelson Cruz and J.A Happ worth every penny

The Mariners made arguably the biggest move this offseason in acquiring Cruz as a free agent from the Baltimore Orioles. Cruz has continued his impressive play with a .340 batting average, 15 home runs and 30 RBI so far this season.

Cruz has also demonstrated great clutch hitting this season, with two walk-off hits so far. The Mariners needed an impact bat this offseason, and Cruz has contributed in a variety of situations.

The 34-year-old Cruz also fills a hole the Mariners have attempted many times to fill since former designated hitter Edgar Martinez retired after the 2004 season. Though it is almost inevitable that Cruz’s impressive statistics will drop, there is no doubt he is an early American League MVP candidate.

Starting pitcher J.A Happ has looked like this season’s version of former Mariner pitcher and 2014 American League Comeback Player of the Year Chris Young. Through his first seven starts, Happ has a 3-1 record and has limited big-play opportunities with a .416 ground-ball percentage.

The Mariners acquired Happ through an offseason trade with the Toronto Blue Jays for outfielder Michael Saunders. Considering the fact that Saunders has only played nine games for the Blue Jays this season, it looks like the Mariners got a bargain in Happ.

Happ has been one of the few bright spots on the team’s pitching staff so far this season. Currently slotted in as the team’s No. 5 starter, Happ may move up the rotational ranks if he continues his hot start.

Though Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik’s moves this offseason have so far been viewed as the right ones, don’t be surprised if the team isn’t done making moves before the MLB trade deadline in July.


Robinson Cano looks lost

When the Mariners signed Cano to a 10-year, $240 million deal in December 2013, the team hoped he would bring his consistent power to a lineup in need of a big bat. Though Cano’s batting average dating back to the beginning of last season has been impressive, his power is clearly not the same as it once was.

Cano has totaled just 15 home runs and a .403 slugging percentage through 194 career games with the Mariners. Cano has struggled this season with just one home run and a .253 batting average through 37 games.

He also has a career-worst .169 strikeout percentage, his highest since the 2011 season. Cano has also struggled with runners in scoring position, with just 11 RBI to begin the year. During a May 15 interview with 710 ESPN Seattle, via Brent Stecker, Cano spoke about his slow start this season.

“I want to do better than what I’m doing right now,” Cano said during the Danny, Dave and Moore show. “I want to go out there and help the team win every single game.”

What should give Mariners fans confidence is the fact that other perennial All-Stars have struggled around the league this season. Pittsburgh Pirates’ star outfielder Andrew McCutchen is hitting just .233 this season after three consecutive seasons with a batting average of .314 or better.

While Cano hasn’t had the best start to his season, there is almost no question he will turn things around. Cano has been a notorious slow starter over his 11-year career, and it looks like this year will be no different.


Follow Curtis on Twitter: @CalhounCurtis

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