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The Seattle Mariners 2014 postmortem

The Mariners made a spirited run, but unless there's delightful chaos over the last four games, they fell short. Let's assign blame.

Otto Greule Jr

The Mariners, Royals, and A's all have four games left. The Mariners need to win all four and have both teams lose all four if they want to win the second wild card outright. They'll need to win all four and have one of the two other teams win just one game if they want to make the play-in game for the playoff game to make the playoffs.

If Mariners win all four and both the Royals and A's win exactly one game, there will be a play-in game for the play-in game to the playoff game to get in the playoffs. Bud Selig's exoskeleton would split at the seams, and the beetle creature inside would fly away at top speed. "Screw this," he'd click. So that's probably the scenario we should all root for.

It's unlikely, though. As such, this is a postmortem for the 2014 Seattle Mariners, who flew too close to the sun on wings made of pitching. It's time to assign some blame.

We'll start with the slide that got them here. On September 8, the Mariners were tied for the second wild card and a game off the wild card lead. Since then, they've gone 4-11, which is a .267 winning percentage. If it makes you feel better, Mariners fans, note that their Pythagorean winning percentage was actually .266, so they've been unlucky.

In that stretch, the Mariners scored the fewest runs in the American League, and they also allowed the most runs. They allowed eight more runs than the second-worst team, and 13 more than the third-worst team. They haven't just lost in a typically bad fashion. They've gone to great efforts to be the worst team in baseball by a wide margin.

Since the high-water mark of September:

  • Felix Hernandez had a bad start (!), allowing eight earned runs against the Blue Jays and pitching fewer than five innings for the first time since Aug. 2013.

  • Hisashi Iwakuma made three starts and couldn't get out of the fifth inning of any of them, including two thumpings by the Astros. He's allowed 26 runs in his last 26 innings.

  • Chris Young made two starts, including another Astros thumping, and Mariners lost both of them.

  • James Paxton got shelled in his last start, giving up up eight runs -- the first time he's allowed more than three in a start in his career

  • Roenis Elias has been cool. Roenis Elias has been cool

It's the pitching's fault. This entire September slide wouldn't have happened if the starting pitchers kept up the same pace as the first five months of the season.

Except, can you really blame the Mariners' fun-yet-disappointing season on the pitching with a straight face? Can you even hint at it and respect yourself the next day? No. No, you cannot. Everything that's good about the Mariners has to do with their pitching, give or take a position player. Their crime is that they didn't sprinkle these games equitably throughout May, June, and July so we wouldn't notice as much, not that they had the bad outings in the first place.

No, the problem, as always, is that the Mariners can't score runs. A list of the top five Mariners by OPS+, minimum 200 at-bats:

  1. Robinson Cano
  2. Kyle Seager
  3. Michael Saunders
  4. Logan Morrison
  5. Endy Chavez

Morrison has a 103 OPS+, but he generally fields like he's wearing boxing gloves. Endy Chavez has a 100 OPS+, but he fields like a 36-year-old Endy Chavez. Even when you get to the handful of hitters with above-average offensive production, there are caveats with a couple of them. Also, Logan Morrison and Endy Chavez have been two of the Mariners' best hitters this season.

The question, then, shouldn't be whom to blame, but rather what. And that's a question with a simple answer: Blame the Mariners' inability to develop a hitter other than Kyle Seager.

If not for Seager, this article would probably have a different tone. "How the Safeco park affects hitters' confidence" or "Safeco Park destroys hitters and must be stopped" or "Why the Safeco Death Fog is going to leak into your home through the ventilation system and suffocate your family." Except Seager exists. He's proof that the park doesn't have to destroy hitters, just dull them a bit like a normal pitcher's park. Look at Kyle, everyone. Be more like Kyle. Isn't Kyle such a nice boy?

After Seager, there's a mess of should'ves drafted in the first round who haven't. Dustin Ackley was a sure thing, as close to John Olerud as a college prospect was supposed to get. Justin Smoak was supposed to make the Mariners happy they didn't trade Cliff Lee for Jesus Montero, and then they got Montero anyway. Mike Zunino decimated two levels with superlative bat control and okay patience, but he's hit like Alfonso Soriano with vertigo this year.

That's the what. Now look for the whom. Is it the players' fault? As in, if they were all on the Red Sox, would they be going through the same things that, say, Will Middlebrooks or Jackie Bradley, Jr. went through this year.

Is it the organization's fault? If those players all came up through the Red Sox system, would they have been a part of a 90-72 season, with the Red Sox comfortably in line for a wild card spot?

Is it the ballpark's fault? Is there something that's endemic to the environment, not unlike the Coors adjustment that hitters have to (and usually can't) make on the road? Could be something complicated that the Mariners will need a Manhattan Project-type effort to fix. Adrian Beltre would probably be a slam-dunk Hall of Famer if not for Safeco, instead of a player nerds will have to fight for.

Boy, those are a lot of questions. And now for the answer.

...

Go on.

Well, I don't have it. Thought you ... never mind. The point is that the Mariners have lost because they can't develop anyone other than Kyle Seager, and that they will continue to lose because they can't develop anyone other than Kyle Seager.  The Mariners' staff picked an awful time to be awful, but the hitters spent six months doing their thing. It's not going to work without some internal help. Seager and Cano can do only so much.