No Playoffs, But Mariners End Season On High Note
The Mariners may not have made the playoffs, but they made a lot of fans proud by sweeping the best team in baseball over the weekend. They did it with a stellar showing from Felix Hernandez in the final game of the season. It was a performance that could earn The King another pitching crown.
KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel Art says it was "remarkable" that the Mariners were still eligible for the playoffs in the final game of the season given their 13-year history of falling short. They finished the year with 87 wins and 75 losses.
"We're used to Mariners falling out of contention by Memorial Day. No one ever expected Labor Day and, my gosh, this thing lasted until the fifth inning of the 162nd game before they were eliminated," he said.
Never Recovered From The Road
"At the end of the season it really did look like they wore out," Art said. Most of the blame can go to their grueling final road-trip schedule — 11 games in a row with no day off.
"That was something that [manager] Lloyd McClendon would like to confront Major League Baseball with and, perhaps, strangle a schedule maker," Art quipped. "They had an 11-game trip in three cities in three time zones and had to fly back and resume the biggest series that the Mariners have had in 13 years, and get back at 5 in the morning."
Art says that's the consequence of being the most geographically-isolated team in Major League Baseball. He says the Mariners flew 56,000 air miles this year.
"It isn't necessarily just the air miles, but it's coming back from a road trip at 3, 4, 5 in the morning and then having a game the next day," Art said.
Doesn't every team do that, you ask?
"Yes and no," says Art. "There are trips in the East and upper Midwest that you can take a bus [to], you can take a train [to], you can do [with] a much more civilized existence.
"The Mariners have always known that; this is no surprise, but I don't think fans fully appreciate it. When you see the Mariner team sort of wear down at the end, it becomes obvious," he said.
The player who seemed most affected by the tough schedule was center fielder Austin Jackson.
"McClendon admitted that Jackson wore down. He's a slender guy, a speedy guy who needs to bulk up, according to McClendon," Art said.
Offense In Offseason
The Mariners plan to spend more money next season to enhance their offense.
"The position players on the roster have to be reinforced with guys who are durable, who are really going to be able to deliver in September like these guys weren't," Art said.
He points out that the Mariners were shut out 19 times this year — a new club record (old one was 15). They finished 14th in the 15-team American League in batting average. And they scored only 10 more runs this year than last year.
"And that's with Robinson Cano in the lineup," Art added.
It's All In The Pitching
Art says strong pitching is the reason the Mariners made it as far as they did this season.
A perfect example was the stellar performance by Felix Hernandez in the final game of the season on Sunday. With seven strikeouts and no earned runs in 5 1/3 innings, Hernandez won the American League ERA (earned run average) title for the year.
King Felix is said to be the front runner to win his second American League Cy Young Award.
"He had a great game," Art said. "He was so mad at himself for that previous game in Toronto when he pitched so poorly in the fifth inning that the game was lost. A lot of people look upon that as the decisive game that ended the Mariners chances; I'm not sure that's the case. But he did make up for it on Sunday by pitching a brilliant game.
"I think he should win the Cy Young because the body of his work was just absolutely outstanding this year. I think the voters are not going to look at one bad game and deny him his second Cy Young Award."
Fans Should Be Proud
The Mariners proved they could win must-win games when it counted the most. They swept the best team in baseball, the American League West champion Los Angeles Angels, to end the season on a high note despite coming up one game short of the second wild-card playoff spot.
"It was the best thing they could've done at the end of the season for their own playoff fortunes. It's just too bad they fell in the deep ditch on that road trip," Art said.
You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.