Tag: Seattle Mariners

Robinson Cano, Mariners Look Primed to End MLB’s Longest Playoff Drought

Many thought 2015 would be the year the Seattle Mariners finally snapped a postseason drought they’d been mired in since 2001. Those many turned out to be wrong.

But now, it’s looking like they’re only going to be off by one year.

Those who haven’t been keeping an eye on the Northwest may be surprised to hear the American League is having a hard time finding an answer for the Mariners. They went into Thursday’s opener of a four-game series at the Houston Astros on a winning streak and tacked on another with a 6-3 win.

It was a close game until the ninth, when Robinson Cano broke it open with a three-run double. Behold:

The Mariners have now won four games in a row and 12 out of their last 15 overall, running their record to 17-11. That ties them with the Boston Red Sox for the second-best record in the American League and puts them just 1.5 games behind the Chicago White Sox for the top mark.

“I would say everything is falling in place,” Cano said after Thursday’s win, via Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times.

The Mariners squad that went into last season as a trendy World Series pick had 11 losses before the end of April and didn’t pick up its 17th win until (appropriately) May 17. Things never really got any better after that for the 2015 Mariners, so it’s understandable if anyone is afraid of getting burned by the 2016 Mariners.

But this is a different team. You can tell just from looking at the names on the roster, which got a dramatic face-lift from new general manager Jerry Dipoto over the winter. You can also tell by looking at what the 2016 Mariners are doing right, which in layman’s terms is “literally everything.”

This isn’t your father’s older brother’s Mariners offense. Scoring didn’t come naturally to them between 2008 and 2015, but now they’re running a .738 OPS (fourth in the AL) and averaging 4.6 runs per game (second in the AL).

And as the Mariners thrive with run production, they’re not skimping on run prevention. They have a 3.04 ERA that ranks second in the AL, and it’s a balanced collaboration between the club’s starting rotation (3.37 ERA) and bullpen (2.33 ERA).

It helps that Mariners pitchers have gotten a boost from their defense. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Mariners ranked 19th in defensive efficiency (simply converting batted balls into outs) last season. This year, they’re among the league’s 10 most efficient defenses.

With the Mariners taking it out on opponents from every which angle, their record might actually underrate them. Perhaps it’s actually their run differential that’s hitting the nail on the head. At plus-32, it’s the best in the American League.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that what holds true in the first month of a season will continue to hold true throughout. But even after the Mariners are run through the smell test, things don’t smell too fishy.

It’s appropriate that Cano is the latest Mariners hero, as that’s a role he’s been playing all year for the club’s offense. With a .918 OPS and nine home runs, he’s easily putting a lost 2015 season behind him. And though the practical explanations for this are complicated, the overarching explanations are simple.

“Physically, Robbie’s in a much better spot this year than he was last year,” Mariners skipper Scott Servais told Jorge L. Ortiz of USA TODAY, in reference to Cano’s 2015 health woes. “He’s moving better. Mentally, he’s in a great spot.”

Cano isn’t doing it alone. There are solid hitters up and down Seattle’s lineup. Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager can keep that up. Seth Smith and Chris Iannetta probably won’t, but Nori Aoki and Adam Lind could balance that out by living up to their track records.

Rather, a more pressing question is whether Seattle’s hitters are actually that good on the other side of the ball. What could allow that to last, however, is if Mariners pitchers continue to make it easy. According to Baseball Savant, they went into Thursday’s action among the league’s best at initiating quiet contact:

Mariners pitchers have been doing this mainly by getting ground balls, as they began Thursday ranked fourth in the AL with a 47.0 ground-ball percentage. Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker are already working on ground-ball rates over 50 percent, and the staff’s collective ground-ball rate will only climb higher if Hisashi Iwakuma and Wade Miley start collecting ground balls at their usual rates.

What could interrupt the flow of Seattle’s pitching staff is the injury to reliever Tony Zych. Divish reports that his bum right shoulder is going to keep him out of action for as long as six weeks. That could mean six weeks without the only guy in the Mariners bullpen with plus velocity.

But it could survive just fine. By keeping hard contact at a minimum despite pedestrian velocity, the 2016 Mariners bullpen is succeeding like last year’s Astros bullpen. The latter used an array of different looks to shut down games, and the former bears a resemblance.

“It’s a different look,” Servais said of his bullpen in April, via Adam Lewis of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “It’s just not everybody throws 95-98 miles per hour. Some guys will do it with the breaking ball. Some guys do it changing eye levels up and down the zone. Some righties get lefties out … I like the diversity of our bullpen.”

It all adds up to a pretty convincing formula for winning ballgames, and it’s hard to imagine a more perfect time and place for it to come together.

The Astros were the popular favorite to win the AL West, but they’re just 10-19 out of the gate and, as David Schoenfield of ESPN.com pointed out, are feeling the effects of some questionable front office decisions. Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels have plenty of issues of their own.

Snapping postseason droughts has been all the rage in baseball recently. It was the Baltimore Orioles‘ turn in 2012, then the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013, the Kansas City Royals in 2014 and the Toronto Blue Jays last season. Now, it looks like the Mariners’ turn.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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How High Will Felix Hernandez Climb Up MLB’s All-Time Strikeout List?

Felix Hernandez‘s quest to take the Seattle Mariners‘ strikeout record from Randy Johnson is over.

Now all King Felix has to do is get as close as he can to the Big Unit on Major League Baseball’s all-time strikeout list. Considering Johnson is one of only four pitchers to record 4,000 strikeouts, this is otherwise known as the hard part.

But that can wait. Though the milestone came in a 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Saturday night, Hernandez’s focus should now be on celebrating his latest accomplishment. With his first-inning strikeout of Rafael Ortega, Hernandez became Seattle’s franchise leader with 2,163 strikeouts.

Behold the moving pictures!

Hernandez finished with four strikeouts in seven innings, bumping his career total to 2,166. Beyond being the most in Mariners history, that’s also an awful lot by the standards of active pitchers. Only CC Sabathia and Bartolo Colon are ahead of Hernandez on that list.

And that’s not even the most impressive part of the strikeout collection Hernandez is working on.

Because it feels like the right-hander has been with the Mariners since the time of the Taft administration, it’s easy to forget King Felix only recently turned 30 years old. Through the age of 30, only seven pitchers racked up more strikeouts than he has:

Fernandez has some pretty good company in this court. And since he’s only now beginning his age-30 season, the list of pitchers ahead of him should dwindle as 2016 progresses. If he follows his career rate of 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings to his usual 200 or so strikeouts, he’ll pass Pedro Martinez and Don Drysdale for sure, and he could make a run at Bert Blyleven.

From where he stands, Hernandez looks like a lock for 3,000 strikeouts—a club that boasts only 16 members. If all goes really well, he might even have a shot at joining Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Steve Carlton in the 4,000-strikeout club.

The latter is an ultra-optimistic projection. But for anyone out there who feels like taking the side of the ultra-optimist, there are a few things to hang your hat on.

Because it’s pretty hard to strike guys out from the bench, the first thing Hernandez needs to make it to the peak of baseball’s strikeout mountain is one thing that’s rarely been in question in his career: durability. Hernandez is the only active pitcher who’s made at least 30 starts and logged at least 190 innings every year since 2006.

Hernandez also has a signature strikeout pitch in his changeup. Houston Astros right-hander Lance McCullers told Ted Berg of USA Today that it’s on the “Mount Rushmore of changeups.” And these days, it’s up to its usual tricks. According to Brooks Baseball, the whiff rate on Hernandez’s changeup was back over 20 percent entering Saturday after it had dipped below that mark in 2015.

Another advantage Hernandez has is that modern baseball is all about the strikeout. Baseball’s strikeout rate has been going nowhere but up for years, and by now we know this is no coincidence.

In 2014, Jon Roegele of the Hardball Times wrote about how huge the strike zone had become. In 2012, Jayson Stark of ESPN wrote about baseball’s increasing obsession with data and how it was helping pitchers more than hitters. Stark also wrote that it probably didn’t hurt that baseball wasn’t as juiced as it once was. Add up these things, and more strikeouts would happen.

So though there’s a huge gap between Hernandez and the tippy-top of baseball’s all-time strikeout list, his credentials and the landscape in which he exists make it look smaller than it is. Another 10 seasons with 200 or so strikeouts to take him over 4,000 sounds almost reasonable.

But let’s talk about that “almost.”

Though King Felix’s track record of durability is commendable in an era when the injury bug has quite the appetite for pitching arms, he’s at an age where his history of durability shouldn’t be taken as a predictor of the future.

Only seven pitchers since 1969 (the year the mound was lowered) logged more innings through age 30 than Hernandez has. And among the players Hernandez is due to pass in 2016 is Sabathia, who’s as good a cautionary tale as anyone. He made it to 200 innings in his age-31 and age-32 seasons, but then his body rebelled and turned him into a shell of his former self.

Lest anyone think the same can’t happen to Hernandez, let’s not forget his elbow sent up some red flags just last season. If that becomes a bigger issue, he’ll be lucky to pitch another five years, much less 10.

It’s also fair to wonder just how much longer Hernandez can be a strikeout pitcher. He may have his good changeup this year, but his velocity is continuing a distressing trend:

That’s a noticeable leak, and the odds of Hernandez reversing it are slim. As Mike Podhorzer of FanGraphs wrote, Hernandez’s velocity may end up “well below expectations given what we would expect him to lose this season.”

This isn’t going to be a one-year thing. Less velocity in 2016 will lead to less velocity in 2017 and less velocity in 2018. That’s how the aging curve works, and it’s among the chief reasons why, as Bill Petti and Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs noted, starting pitchers’ strikeout rates take a marked downturn as they age. In other words: the 8.5 career K/9 rate that’s gotten Hernandez to where he is now isn’t going to stick around for the long haul.

As such, the pie-in-the-sky hope of 4,000 strikeouts will likely remain just that. Even if we assume that Hernandez will stay on the mound for another five to 10 years, the bar probably shouldn’t be set any higher than even 3,000 strikeouts.

But to one extent, that’s also as high as it needs to go. Of the 16 members in the 3,000-strikeout club, only Clemens and Curt Schilling aren’t in the Hall of Fame. If King Felix joins such company one day, he might as well punch his ticket to Cooperstown on the spot.

For now, though, Hernandez can say he broke one of Johnson’s records. There aren’t many who have done the same.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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Felix Hernandez Illness: Updates on Mariners Star’s Status and Return

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez was scratched from his start Friday night against the division-rival Los Angeles Angels due to an illness.

Continue for updates.

Hernandez’s Status Uncertain After Scratch

Friday, April 22

The Mariners announced Hisashi Iwakuma will start Friday instead of Hernandez. No further information about the ailment or how long it could keep the starter sidelined was immediately disclosed.

Hernandez remains the ace of Seattle’s staff and one of the most reliable starters in baseball. Few pitchers have matched his overall impact across the past decade. The Mariners hope that trend is able to continue for the foreseeable future.

The 30-year-old right-hander has made at least 30 starts in every season dating back to 2006. The team did shut him down one start early last year, but that was more for precautionary reasons than any major health concerns.

If the latest ailment forces him to miss more than a few days, the Mariners will need Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker to step up to lead the staff. While those other starters aren’t proven aces, they are certainly capable of stringing together several strong starts in a row.

Of course, the Seattle rotation is nowhere near as imposing without Hernandez leading the way.


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Examining the Loud Return of Robinson Cano’s Big Home Run Power

You know what they say about $240 million contracts. It’s amazing how quickly they can go from looking like money well spent to money wasted and back to money well spent again.

That may not be going on in Albert Pujols’ neck of the woods, but it is in Robinson Cano‘s. This time last year, the power-hitting second baseman the Seattle Mariners paid the big bucks for seemed to no longer have power. But now, he can’t stop hitting home runs.

After slugging six homers in the entire first half of 2015, Cano is balancing out an ugly .250 on-base percentage with five dingers in his first nine games in 2016. The most recent came on Wednesday at Safeco Field against the Texas Rangers. The first four were against the Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington, and looked a bit like this:

Cano’s dinger display isn’t coming out of nowhere. The 33-year-old finished 2015 with 15 long balls in the second half. And in spring training this year, he launched seven home runs. All told, he’s now slugged 27 home runs in the last 91 games he’s played in.

Call it a hunch, but Cano is probably not staying on a 240-homer pace. Even topping 35 home runs could be difficult, as it’s something he’s never done before.

Then again, whether Cano can keep socking dingers at such a ridiculous rate isn’t the most interesting question worth asking. Rather, that would be simply: “How?”

For starters, it’s not hard to determine what originally killed the former New York Yankee’s power. The easy culprit is Safeco Field, which is definitely not the same as Yankee Stadium for left-handed sluggers. But the real culprit was Cano himself, who stopped operating like a power hitter. 

After cranking out 27 home runs in his final season with the Yankees in 2013, he preceded his slow start in 2015 by knocking just 14 home runs in his first year in Seattle in 2014. And overall in his first year and a half in Seattle, he stopped hitting as many balls in the air, didn’t use his pull side and struggled to make hard contact like he did as he was averaging 28 homers a year in his heyday (2009-2013):

None of this helped Cano’s power, but the ground balls hurt the most. Barring well-placed gopher holes, balls that skip across the infield don’t usually end up beyond the fence.

And Cano’s ground balls weren’t a fluke. When Dan Farnsworth of FanGraphs dove into the video, he found that Cano’s swing path had become flatter than it was in New York. When that happens, fly balls and line drives easily become grounders.

Cano’s age might explain his other troubles. Age tends to slow down bats, and Cano’s bat often did look slow last season.

But there was also more afflicting Cano than just age. He revealed to Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today last summer that he had been battling a nagging stomach problem ever since August of 2014. He also broke his right pinkie toe during a tour in Japan the following winter. And in March, he was dealt an emotional blow when his grandfather passed away.

In short: By the time the 2015 All-Star break rolled around, the poor guy was a wreck.

But then, of course, came Cano’s turnaround. Beyond hitting 15 homers in the second half, he also slashed .331/.387/.540. In terms of adjusted offense, he was one of the 15 best hitters in the league.

How Cano did this is suspect at first glance. Relative to his first season and a half in Seattle, his batted ball profile really didn’t change:

On paper, Cano’s second half really shouldn’t have featured so much extra power. The ground balls were still there, and he wasn’t pulling the ball or hitting the ball hard at a higher rate.

What Cano was doing, however, was not wasting the balls he did get in the air.

That’s obvious to the extent that his home run per fly ball rate jumped from 8.1 in the first half to 25.9 in the second half. And though it didn’t show in his overall hard-hit rate, Baseball Savant can vouch that Cano did hit fly balls and line drives with more exit velocity than he did in the first half:

  • First Half: 94.2 MPH
  • Second Half: 96.3 MPH

The elephant in this particular room is that the Mariners hired team legend Edgar Martinez to be their new hitting coach last June. Now-former manager Lloyd McClendon told Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN Seattle that Martinez “absolutely” had an impact on the club’s offensive turnaround. And though Cano’s ground ball rate suggests that Martinez didn’t fix his swing path, MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds may be right in thinking that Martinez was able to improve Cano’s balance and timing:

This brings us, finally, to what Cano is doing this year.

He’s operating like a hitter who’s fully confident in his power revival. He went into Thursday with a much-improved 0.80 ground ball to fly ball ratio, while also pulling the ball at a 56.7 percent clip. Though this does help explain his inconsistency, it’s certainly a solid foundation for all his power.

The working theory for why Cano is having an easier time hitting the ball in the air is that his swing plane is no longer flat. But for now, it’s hard to say for certain whether that’s true. None of his highlights (to my knowledge) offers a handy side view, and his swing path looks different depending on the pitch anyway.

But as for why Cano is pulling the ball like he is, ROOT Sports color man Mike Blowers posited after Cano’s third home run: “Now that he’s healthy he’s able to pull the ball with authority. We’ve seen that a lot.”

It could indeed be that simple. Cano is well removed from his initial stomach trouble, and he also had surgery in October to repair a sports hernia. When he reported to spring training, he claimed to be feeling “98 percent” healthy.

Three scouts that Joel Sherman of the New York Post spoke to noticed as much.

“Looks better physically than I have seen in years,” said one.

“Not just on offense, he is moving well to his left on defense again,” said another.

And to the naked eye, Cano does look pretty good. Where his swing often seemed slow and sluggish last year, this year it looks quick and explosive, particularly when he turned on a high and tight fastball on Wednesday, which looked like this from the rear:

There’s more to the story of Cano’s power revival. For example, Owen Watson highlighted at FanGraphs that he seems to be back to punishing mistakes in the strike zone. You know, like a good hitter should.

But from a wider perspective, the big takeaway is that the return of Cano’s power isn’t due to any one thing. His power initially left for several reasons, and has come back seemingly thanks to some slight adjustments, improved health and, based on appearances, more confidence. 

For how long Cano can keep this up remains a good question. At his age, his body could very well betray him again. And if his OBP continues to suffer, he may resolve to cut down on his power and simply try for better at-bats.

For now, though, Cano is putting on a heck of a show. The fact that it’s a show that seemed to be on the verge of disappearing forever only makes it better.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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Robinson Cano’s Hot Start Breathes Life Back into Mariners Franchise

The Seattle Mariners will pay Robinson Cano $24 million every year until 2024. That much we know.

The question is, what will Cano give Seattle in return?

For the first two years of his 10-year, $240 million deal, the answer has been an uneasy blend of solid production and disappointment. Yes, Cano made the All-Star team and finished fifth in American League MVP voting in 2014. Last season, he hit .287 with 21 home runsa perfectly respectable output. 

The Mariners, though, need more than respectable output from Cano. They need a franchise player, a guy worthy of a payroll-chewing payday.

They need the guy who posted 30 wins above replacement for the New York Yankees between 2010 and 2013 and established himself as one of the game’s elite talents.

Three games into the 2016 campaign, Cano is showing signs. And while the usual small-sample caveats apply, it’s decidedly good news for the Mariners.

After clubbing two home runs in Seattle’s 9-5 come-from-behind win over the division-rival Texas Rangers on Wednesday, Cano has four homers on the young season, a historic early power binge in the Pacific Northwest, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Last season, by contrast, Cano didn’t hit his fourth homer until June 26.

The home runs haven’t merely cleared the fence. They’ve done so in eye-opening fashion, as Fox Sports’ Dan Carson noted:

And Cano’s not just hitting homers, he is spanking balls. His first home run of the season (coincidentally during his first at-bat) jumped off the wood at 110 mph—with a launch angle of a lean 18 degrees.

Cano didn’t hit this ball as much as reprimand it for looking him in the eye.

Here, take a look for yourself:

That swing calls to mind vintage Cano, the player the Mariners thought they were getting when they cut that cartoonish check. What if they have him now? What, exactly, would that mean?

For starters, it’d put a Mariners team—one that just missed the postseason in 2014 before limping to a fourth-place 76-86 finish in 2015squarely into the October mix.

The M’s made some moves this winter under general manager Jerry Dipoto, adding ancillary pieces in the mold of outfielder Nori Aoki, left-hander Wade Miley and the overhaul of a subpar bullpen. But they failed to grab any of the market’s top-shelf, instant-impact names.

A resurgent Cano could fill that void.

There’s offensive talent around him, including third baseman Kyle Seager and designated hitter Nelson Cruz. And the rotation is anchored as ever by his royal highness Felix Hernandez.

The Rangers and Houston Astroslast year’s AL West champs and Wild Card, respectivelyremain the nominal division favorites. But there’s room for another club to sneak into the picture and challenge the Texas twosome.

If Cano, at age 33, can rediscover his 30-homer pop, that club could be Seattle.

In addition, and perhaps more importantly, a gaudy year from Cano would make that contract look less onerous. The Mariners knew they were paying down the road for production now when they inked Cano. By 2023—his age-40 season—he assuredly won’t be a $24 million player.

But if he can crank the clock back and become not merely a good player but a great one, suddenly the Mariners go from fringe contenders to legit threats.

It’s early. Crazy things can happen in the span of a few games, and they’re often not predictive.

But we’re not talking about some no-name scrub playing out of his mind. We’re talking about a preternaturally gifted man who, not so long ago, was on the shortlist of the best players on the planet.

Cano underwent hernia surgery in October and said it improved his ability to turn his hips, per MLB.com’s Greg Johns. That translated to seven Cactus League homers, and the power surge has carried over.

Seager spoke about Cano’s improvement, per Johns:

He told me that [he felt better] when he got here, so he was right. He’s a special player. Everybody knows that. When you’re playing through injury and nobody knows about it, that’s tough. He’s good. But you could tell in the spring, you can tell in BP, you can tell just the way he’s walking around and moving.

Will it lead to the Mariners, who took two of three from the Rangers in Arlington, moving up in the standings? Time, as ever, will tell.

But if you’re searching for game-changing storylines in the AL West and the Junior Circuit in general, keep your eye on this one. And if you’re a Mariners fan assessing the state of the franchise, let yourself soak in a little renewed optimism.

Cano will take $240 million from Seattle’s coffers. That we know. Suddenly, there’s hope that those bucks may translate into some serious bang.


All statistics current as of April 6 and courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Taijuan Walker Ready to Break Out, Form 1-2 Ace Duo with Felix Hernandez

If all the prospect reports and estimated times of arrival had been right, we wouldn’t be asking whether Taijuan Walker can step up to be a legitimate “2” to Felix Hernandez’s “1” atop the Seattle Mariners starting rotation.

We wouldn’t be asking, because it already would have happened, the way it happened for all those New York Mets starters. They stepped in, and they stepped up, seemingly without a glitch, and the Mets found themselves in the World Series.

The Mariners, for yet another year, did not. And with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays all making it to October, the Mariners now own the longest postseason drought in the game (14 years).

And Taijuan Walker can still be the guy who ends it. This year.

He still has all that talent that got him ranked ahead of guys like Chris Archer and Noah Syndergaard on those long-ago prospect lists. He’s only 23, and he’s coming off a pretty good half-season of success in 2015.

He could “shoot the moon” this year, as new Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in his introductory press conference last September.

“He’s the type of talent who could make huge strides in performance at any point,” Dipoto said this week in a follow-up text to Bleacher Report. “But for now, we’re quite satisfied with simply viewing him as one of our guys, no more, no less.”

The Mariners actually entered spring training with the public stance that Walker had to compete for a job, that he was one of three pitchers for the final two rotation spots. Even now, while it’s clear he will be there, Bob Dutton of the News Tribune believes the Mariners will start him fourth behind Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Wade Miley.

Really, though, Walker is the guy who could push the Mariners to something special.

He’s part of the reason Dipoto didn’t believe the M’s needed a total overhaul, why the new GM kept together the core that includes Hernandez as well as Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz. With Cano and Cruz in the middle of the order, and Hernandez and Walker atop the rotation, it’s not that hard to see the Mariners contending in the American League West.

It’s not that hard to see Walker as a guy who can help make it happen, based on the stuff that earned those high prospect rankings and the results that show he went 10-3 with a 3.62 ERA over his final 20 starts in 2015 (with supporting numbers to match). The Mariners can even see his ugly first two months as a positive because a young pitcher learned to figure things out without needing a trip back to Triple-A.

His results so far this spring have been so-so, including a Monday start in which he allowed four runs in 3.1 innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks. But it’s worth remembering Zack Greinke allowed three runs in 3.2 innings in the same game, and in another split-squad game on the same day, Hernandez gave up three runs in 2.1 innings.

It’s also worth remembering Walker had a spectacular spring in 2015, with a 0.67 ERA and a .114 opponents’ batting average. That performance no doubt had people suggesting the same thing we’re suggesting here: Walker could join King Felix and bring the Mariners to the top.

It’s easy to see super-young pitching and predict greatness, but there are cautionary tales everywhere that prove it doesn’t always happen. The Mariners themselves thought they were building a super-rotation, back when Baseball America was ranking Walker and Danny Hultzen ahead of Archer, and James Paxton ahead of Marcus Stroman.

Hultzen got hurt. Paxton is 27 and still hasn’t spent a full season in the big leagues. Maurer was traded to the San Diego Padres for Seth Smith.

Walker remains as the big hope.

He’s still young enough and talented enough, and the run of good starts last year felt like a possible breakthrough. As manager Scott Servais said in a tweet from Larry Stone of the Seattle Times:

Yes, it is fun to watch him pitch. It’ll be even more fun for Servais and the Mariners if Walker pitches them to October.

It could happen. This year.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Felix Hernandez Comments on Mariners’ Postseason Drought, Health and More

Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez is a six-time All-Star and former Cy Young Award winner, and he is unquestionably considered one of the best pitchers in the game. He could even be on his way to Cooperstown one day if he continues to dominate opposing hitters late into his career.

However, the 29-year-old ace has one glaring omission on his resume—a postseason appearance. He plans to change that during the 2016 season.

Hernandez addressed his personal postseason drought at a Mariners workout, per Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times: “It’s always motivating me every year, trying to do something special and make the playoffs. It drives me crazy. I’ve never made the playoffs in the big leagues. I can’t wait to be there.”

Hernandez isn’t the only one in the Mariners organization who’s using the postseason drought as motivation. Manager Scott Servais discussed the juxtaposition of Hernandez’s career and the lack of team success when looking ahead to the season, per Divish:

Felix has never thrown a pitch in the playoffs, and it’s time. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get there. And he knows that as well. For a player to have that kind of career and to not have pitched in the playoffs yet, it’s up to us to make sure we get the pieces around him and it’s up to him to pull a few guys along with him. It’s going to be a joint effort.

Seattle hasn’t reached the postseason since 2001, and those 14 seasons represent the longest drought in the league. From a production standpoint, it is hard to blame Hernandez for that:

Despite the strong numbers, Hernandez wasn’t pleased with his individual performance in 2015, per Divish: “I was [inconsistent]. I’ve worked on my mechanics a little bit. I did the same physical program I’ve done the last two years. I can’t wait to throw my bullpen and see how it feels.”

Many will be anxious to see how Hernandez feels this season.

Former outfield coach Andy Van Slyke appeared on a St. Louis radio station and questioned the pitcher’s health even though he reached the 200-inning plateau for the eighth straight year, per Divish: “He also lamented the health of Hernandez and its effect on the team. Van Slyke said that the Mariners’ ace was pitching with ulnar collateral ligament that had deteriorated by 25 percent and there was a general concern it could snap at any moment.”

However, head trainer Rick Griffin was skeptical of Van Slyke’s claims. “All pitchers, especially those who have thrown 2,000 innings, have some damage in their ligament,” he said, per Divish. “He has not missed a start because of his elbow in the entire time he’s been here with us. We do everything we can to keep him on the field. I don’t know where that percent came from.”

Hernandez also dismissed the notion, per Divish: “No, no, not true. I’m fine. He said a lot stuff that’s not true. … I know you guys said last year at the end of the year I was hurt, but I wasn’t. I’m fine. Physically, I’m fine. I’m ready to throw.”

But there is a noticeable difference in the overpowering pitcher’s appearance heading into the 2016 campaign. Divish noted Hernandez showed up to workouts with his usual black hair dyed blond as well as blond chin hair that was “now more than an inch in length.”

Hernandez addressed the change, per Divish. “I was tired of seeing my black hair in the mirror all the time, so I decided to go blond,” he said. “I’m just trying something different. Yeah, I’m going to keep it for the entire season.”

Perhaps the new hair will give Hernandez just the change in karma he needs to finally reach the postseason with what could be a strong contender behind him.

Jonah Keri of Sports Illustrated listed the Mariners as the 11th-best team in baseball in his power rankings at the start of spring training. He particularly liked the new players the front office added in the offseason to a team that was 76-86 in 2015.

The problem for the Mariners is a strong American League West division that features two playoff teams from last year in the Texas Rangers (seventh in Keri’s rankings) and Houston Astros (third in Keri’s rankings).

However, the projected bottom of the division is soft, with the Oakland Athletics (24th in Keri’s rankings) and the Los Angeles Angels (21st in Keri’s rankings), which will help the Mariners in the wild-card race against teams from the American League East and Central who won’t get to play Los Angeles or Oakland as much.

If the new players fulfill expectations and Hernandez performs like he does seemingly every season, Seattle and its superstar ace may finally reach the playoffs for the first time since Lou Piniella was the team’s manager.

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Why the Seattle Mariners Will Be a Shocking MLB Playoff Contender in 2016

The beauty of sport is its unpredictable nature, right?

It’s funny because even though we can all agree that sport is the best in unscripted reality television, our natural tendency is to predict. We think we know who may compete this baseball season simply because we can look at rosters and compare them.

The irony is that our uncontrollable need to forecast a season ultimately plays into that original premise—that our predictions are often wrong. That’s exactly why sports rate so well on television. We are unable to perfectly predict the outcome.

So every season there are teams that shock the baseball world by contending for the postseason. Consider the Seattle Mariners to be one of those out-of-nowhere teams in 2016.

Before you go apoplectic about such a claim, remember this: To pick the big surprises of the 2016 season, there first has to be a litany of reasons not to.

The organization has a new general manager, Jerry Dipoto, who likely told the franchise he would need time to turn the team into a competitor. Since he took the job in September 2015, the hourglass isn’t even close to empty.

He needs to infuse talent into Seattle’s minor league system which ranked 28th in Baseball America’s latest rankings. The team, though it underwent a large overhaul of its roster this offseason, didn’t make a major splash in free agency.

Now that we’ve gotten all that’s working against the Mariners this season on the record, there were a couple of under-the-radar moves that give reason to think they’ll improve on last year’s 76-86 record and justify FanGraphs’ prediction of an 84-win 2016 season.

In 2015, the Mariners ranked fifth in Major League Baseball with 198 home runs. So how the heck did they rank only 21st with 656 runs scored?

They couldn’t get on base.

Seattle hit .249 as a team last season, only .06 points higher than baseball’s worst team. Their .311 on-base percentage ranked 22nd in baseball. What did they do this offseason?

They got guys who could get on base (you probably guessed it, I know).

Outfielder Nori Aoki (.353), Adam Lind (.360) are both solid on-base players who figure into the team’s everyday lineup. And the Mariners didn’t lose much power in the offseason.

The team returns Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz who combined to hit 70 of Seattle’s home runs last season.

In 2015, second baseman Robinson Cano also saw his average dip below .300 for the first time since 2008 and should return to being the high-average player the Mariners thought they were getting when they signed him as a free agent prior to the 2014 season. An uptick in Cano’s average should help the middle of Seattle’s order produce more runs.

There’s a whole other side of the game, of course.

The team’s ace, Felix Hernandez, posted his worst ERA (3.53) since the 2011 season (3.47). He is likely to vastly improve from a subpar 2015 campaign and remain one of baseball’s more coveted pitchers. Joaquin Benoit, a 14-year veteran, was added this offseason to bolster the bullpen.

Luck factors in, too. The Mariners could use some of that. This roster isn’t baseball’s most talented. But it isn’t a roster bereft of talent, either.

The most talented team doesn’t always win. If it did, baseball’s paper champion would also be its World Series Champion. And who would want to watch a game that predictable?

The Mariners have contending-type pieces. Hernandez has been among baseball’s best pitchers, Cano was one of its most sought-after free agents, Cruz has been an All-Star the past three seasons and Seager has one All-Star appearance to his name.

It’s easy to overlook what the Mariners have on their roster because of so much they lack. The 2015 season exposed many deficiencies on this roster—including its weak minor league system—that a turnaround in 2016 seems unfathomable.

Should the Mariners contend in 2016? Probably not. That doesn’t mean they can’t, though.

That is precisely why you’ll be watching all season.


Seth Gruen covers baseball for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.

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Dainer Moreira to Mariners: Latest Contract Details, Comments and Reaction

The Seattle Mariners have dipped into the Cuban talent pool, signing utility man Dainer Moreira to a minor league contract just three weeks before the team’s minor league minicamp in Peoria, Arizonaper Bob Dutton of the News Tribune.

Mariners vice president of player personnel Tom Allison hasn’t determined where Moreira will fit, but the new signee’s versatility intrigues him, per Dutton.

“What you have is a 32-year-old who can really, really run. He’s got multipositional flexibility,” he said. “He can play short. He can play third. We’ve never seen him in the outfield. Maybe he can run out to left field. Maybe he can be another depth option.”

Moreira defected from Cuba in February 2015 after competing in the Caribbean World Series, hoping to enjoy the same success many of his countrymen such as Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes have seen in the majors. 

Moreira isn’t at their level yet and will likely need extended time in the minors to adjust—particularly since he hasn’t played in a game since leaving the Cuban national team. 

“That’s why we’re going to bring him in early [to minicamp],” Allison said. “We’re trying to add depth and flexibility. That’s one thing he can do.”

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Joe Wieland to Mariners: Latest Trade Details, Comments and Reaction

The Los Angeles Dodgers announced they have traded Joe Wieland to the Seattle Mariners for minor league infielder Erick Mejia.

Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan initially reported the news.

Wieland is 1-5 in 11 career MLB appearances with a 5.85 earned run average. He made two starts for the Dodgers in 2015, allowing eight earned runs in 8.2 innings.

Eric Stephen of SB Nation’s True Blue LA posited one reason for this trade by Los Angeles:

Passan reported earlier in the day the Dodgers were close to agreeing to a deal with Cuban right-hander Yasiel Sierra for roughly $30 million. Keeping Wieland wouldn’t have precluded Sierra from being a part of the Dodgers’ roster, but it makes adding him a lot easier.

Given Wieland’s history in the majors, it’s hard to say this move adds depth to the rotation from a Seattle perspective. The Mariners’ five slots are nearly spoken for anyway, with James Paxton a good bet to be the No. 5 starter as long as he can stay healthy.

Wieland could be an emergency spot starter or play a long-relief role during the regular season. Since he has two more years of arbitration remaining, he is also a cost-controlled arm, which likely played into the Mariners’ decision.

Mejia spent 2015 between Seattle’s Rookie League, Low-A, Single-A and Triple-A affiliates. In 51 games, the 21-year-old hit .282/.346/.339 with 16 runs batted in and 20 stolen bases. Baseball Prospectus’ Christopher Crawford believes the Dodgers got solid value for Wieland:

Considering Wieland was unlikely to factor much on Los Angeles’ major league roster, taking a flier on a young middle infielder is a smart gamble by the team.

The Dodgers could also package him together with one or more of their top prospects in order to trade for a more major league-ready star.

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