MLB Team Report - Seattle Mariners - INSIDE PITCH
SEATTLE -- The first 95 games of the Lloyd McClendon era might not have reminded Seattle's new manager of the recent Detroit Tigers teams that employed him as a bench coach, but neither did they remind Pacific Northwest fans of some recent Mariners campaigns.
McClendon's Mariners topped 50 games by the All-Star break, which is something none of Seattle's previous 10 teams could do. The manager found a way to keep the team relevant well into July and put off the NFL talk in the football-mad town for a few more weeks.
It is quite a successful run for the Mariners, who might have to pull off an even less likely feat in order to sustain it.
The Mariners undoubtedly need more contributions if they are going to stick around in the American League wild-card race -- if not get back into the hunt in the AL West. Second baseman Robinson Cano, ace Felix Hernandez and the bullpen have been about as good as anyone could expect, yet even their combined success wasn't enough to push Seattle into the running for the division title.
Seattle sits eight games behind the AL West-leading Oakland A's.
The key to the second half of the season is going to come down to the bottom of the batting order and the back of the rotation, two areas where the Mariners have significant deficiencies. After Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Chris Young, Seattle has plenty of question marks in terms of starting pitching. The Mariners are also looking for much bigger things from players such as shortstop Brad Miller, left fielder Dustin Ackley, first baseman Justin Smoak and designated hitter Corey Hart over the final 67 games of the season.
In some ways, McClendon kept the team in the postseason race through smoke and mirrors. Young and veteran outfielder Endy Chavez are among the players who performed far better than anyone could have expected, and the offense was more efficient than the sum of its parts -- particularly on the road.
"I've said it time and time again: On offense, we're going to be challenged some days, and it won't look good," said McClendon, whose team went through one eight-game stretch in July when it failed to score as many as four runs in a single game. "But I'll take the whole picture, and we'll be OK. I think all in all, we're going to be OK."
The good news for the Mariners is that most of the American League has deficiencies; even Oakland was hit by the injury bug as of late.
What might be even more pressing for the Mariners over the second half of the season is for the top of the rotation to keep up its torrid pace. Hernandez is off to one of his best starts. Iwakuma could get even better as he shakes off the rust of missing spring training, while Young already won more games than anyone could have expected when the Mariners signed him out of spring training in late March.
"What a godsend for this rotation," McClendon said if Young in June. "He's just been tremendous."
Chris Young and the young Mariners exceeded expectations so far, but McClendon has his work cut out for him if Seattle is going to keep it up.
"I think this organization has come quite far," McClendon said. "I think we've accomplished a lot, but in the end, we haven't accomplished anything. But I certainly think we're headed in the right direction."
MLB Team Report - Seattle Mariners - NOTES, QUOTES
STREAK: Lost one
FIRST-HALF MVP: RHP Felix Hernandez is having one of his best seasons, and a rejuvenated offense rewarded him with victories -- something that didn't always happen in the past. Hernandez (11-2, 2.12 ERA) possesses Cy Young-type numbers is showing the kind of consistency that could put him into the conversation as being one of the top two or three pitchers in baseball. 2B Robinson Cano was a huge addition, and he gave a needed boost to the offense, but Hernandez is the most valuable Mariner.
FIRST-HALF-GRADE: B-minus -- Still being relevant at the All-Star break is a big step for a Mariners organization that is usually in Siberia by this point. Manager Lloyd McClendon is making the most out of a limited lineup and is finding a way to keep the Mariners competitive despite a makeshift rotation. McClendon probably doesn't have to start making any postseason travel plans, especially after a rough final week leading up to the break, but he is giving the fan base some hope -- and that is a big step in the right direction.
PIVOTAL POST-BREAK PLAYER: RHP Taijuan Walker, the Mariners' top prospect, was a luxury late last season, but injuries to some of his fellow phenoms put Seattle in more of a desperate situation in terms of Walker's contribution this season. The back of the rotation fell on hard times over the past month, and Walker is just the kind of starter who could wear the hero's cape. However, he still is pretty rusty after having missed all of spring training with shoulder issues, and he recently was sent back to Triple-A to get in a couple of starts during the break. The Mariners still have high hopes for Walker's long-term future, but they might need him sooner rather than later.
BUY OR SELL: GM Jack Zduriencik has been in building mode since the day he arrived in Seattle in the fall of 2008, but he doesn't have the luxury of time on his side anymore. The team hasn't publicly acknowledged Zduriencik's status beyond the 2013 season, so he is not as concerned about the future as he once was. The Mariners could use another bat, particularly one that could provide right-handed power. Another starting pitcher also could come into play if Seattle is tired of waiting on LHP Roenis Elias and RHP Taijuan Walker to settle in and find some consistency. However, with a young team and with injuries hampering some of the organization's top prospects, Seattle might not have enough ammunition to make a big move.
INJURY STATUS: Injuries affected both the Mariners' lineup and the rotation throughout the first half of the season, but Seattle was able to weather the storm in large part because the core of the team remained intact. Seattle got RHP Hisashi Iwakuma from injury, and 2B Robinson Cano isn't expected to miss many more games; having both of them back and healthy is a must. Now the team would like RHP Taijuan Walker to shake off the rust, LHP James Paxton to return from a nagging arm injury and OF Michael Saunders to put his on-again-off-again health issues to bed. Even without them, the Mariners look good enough.
TOP PROSPECT: 3B D.J. Peterson, the Mariners' first-round pick in the 2013 draft, rose up the ranks rather quickly -- he currently is in Double-A -- but he might have to make a position change if he wants to play in Seattle anytime soon. All-Star Kyle Seager is as cemented into his position as any Seattle position player, and Peterson won't unseat him anytime soon. First base might be the best fit for the right-handed 22-year-old with power potential. Peterson probably is still at least a year away from making his major league debut.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think people (in Seattle) are starting to believe in us a little bit. The walks downtown are a little bit more pleasant now." -- Manager Lloyd McClendon.
MLB Team Report - Seattle Mariners - ROSTER REPORT
--RF Michael Saunders (strained left oblique) went on the 15-day disabled list July 11. He might not return as soon as he is eligible.
--LHP James Paxton (strained lat muscle) went on the 15-day disabled list April 9. He met with the team doctor April 23 and was cleared to start playing catch. He threw bullpen sessions May 9, May 11 and May 14. He pitched in a simulated game May 17. He began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma on May 24. He didn't throw May 26 due to left shoulder soreness, and he was shut down for five to seven days as of May 28. Paxton threw bullpen sessions June 27, June 30 and July 4. He pitched simulated games July 8 and July 12.
--RHP Blake Beavan (right shoulder stiffness) went on the 15-day disabled list April 16, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on May 30.
RHP Felix Hernandez
LHP Roenis Elias
RHP Chris Young
RHP Hisashi Iwakuma
RHP Fernando Rodney (closer)
RHP Danny Farquhar
LHP Charlie Furbush
RHP Tom Wilhelmsen
RHP Brandon Maurer
RHP Yoervis Medina
LHP Joe Beimel
RHP Dominic Leone
LHP Lucas Luetge
1B Logan Morrison
2B Robinson Cano
SS Brad Miller
3B Kyle Seager
INF Justin Smoak
INF/OF Willie Bloomquist
LF Dustin Ackley
CF James Jones
RF Endy Chavez
DH Corey Hart