Note: This was my column I wrote for the Oct. 6 issue of the Cheney Free Press.
On the way to the Oct. 3 Airway Heights City Council meeting, I was listening to “Patchin, Lukens and Osso” and playing their “Buy or Sell” segment — a ritual I normally engage in on Monday nights.
One of the questions that night was “The Mariners’ season was a success, buy or sell?” — buy, meaning “yes it was” and sell meaning “no it was not.”
My answer was “buy.”
The Mariners wrapped up their 2016 season on Sunday, Oct. 2, with a 3-2 loss against the Oakland Athletics. This was a day after Seattle suffered a 9-8 heartbreaker to the A’s in extra innings and were subsequently eliminated from the postseason — making it the longest playoff drought of any current Major League franchise.
Saturday was bittersweet, but fans can say the Mariners fought until the end. This was not like 2015 where some experts and fans had Seattle penciled into the World Series contention at the beginning of the year, only to have them fall as the season progressed.
The Mariners, which celebrated their 40th year as a Major League franchise, came into the season with a new general manager Jerry DiPoto, who replaced previous GM Jack Zduriencik and new manager Scott Servais, who took over for former manager Lloyd McClendon.
DiPoto came into the season with many expectations, a new front office and the eyes of the fans and critics on him. But fans knew it was going to be an uphill battle for the new GM.
Seattle started out the year hot, making it to first place in the American League West standings by late May, before they dropped to 45-44 at the All Star break. In September, they were six games out the playoffs, but then went on to win 16 of 22 their games.
Sure, Seattle did not make the playoffs, but the season was not a complete failure. The Mariners finished 86-76 and second place in the AL West. It wasn’t the team’s best finish in recent years — in 2014 they finished 87-75 and barely missed the playoffs — but it is an improvement from 2015 where they went 76-86 and ended fourth in the division standings.
There are also several small victories the Mariners can hang their caps on this year.
Second baseman Robinson Cano finished the season with a .298 batting average, 39 home runs and 103 RBIs, which is better than he did last year. Cano also smacked his 250th career home run in May, becoming the only second baseman to hit 250 home runs in the first 12 years of his career. Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager shined at the plate as well. Cruz finished with a .287 average with 43 homers and 105 RBIs while Seager finished with .278, 30 home runs and 99 RBIs.
Pitching wise, the Mariners bullpen set a club record for strikeouts with 1,318 — one more than the previous high of 1,317 set in 2014.
Another small victory is pitcher Felix Hernandez earning his 150th career win after the Mariners’ 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels in August, four years after his perfect game. Overall, Hernandez did not have the best season, missing seven weeks because of a strained calf muscle.
Former Mariner Ken Griffey Jr. being inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame and his No. 24 jersey retired was another highlight. It didn’t really contribute to Seattle’s success, but they were moments that made fans smile.
Speaking of Seattle fans, the Mariners’ season attendance was over 2.268 million, which is the highest it’s been since 2008.
The Mariners will have a few free agents and should be able to add some players to their roster next year. Hopefully they will bring on a shortstop and a consistent first baseman.
While we’re at it, they should try and bolster the bullpen with more pitchers in their rotation, not only because of injuries that could happen during the season, but also because three pitchers, Taijuan Walker and relievers Steve Cischek and Tony Zych, will possibly undergo surgery during the offseason.
The team will have a core group of returners next year, including Cano, Cruz and Seager.
Fernandez is optimistic about returning next season, saying he will work on his “mechanics,” a little, as well as play winter ball and possibly compete in the World Baseball Classic, which will be held in March 2017 in Los Angeles.
So I’ll tip my cap and raise a glass to the Mariners on their season. That said, I think fans should raise their expectations for next year.