Colton Swanson, Online Reporter
The 2016 season has officially come to a close after a long 162 game run. After months of grinding, the Seattle Mariners fell just short of the playoffs and finished second in the American League West nine games back of the Texas Rangers and three games back of the Wild Card.
The tone for the 2016 season was set in the final month of 2015. Jack Zduriencik, the Mariners General Manager, was relieved from his position on Aug. 28 after seven years in Seattle. It didn’t take long for the Mariners to hire a new GM as former Angels GM Jerry Dipoto took the helm a month later. From then on, the Mariners created a new culture within their organization with Dipoto leading the charge.
The new GM wasn’t afraid to make moves, his first of which came in the form of demoting struggling catcher Mike Zunino. Dipoto didn’t stop there as he made the first notable trade of the 2015-2016 off season. Shortstop Brad Miller, First Baseman Logan Morrison and Relief Pitcher Danny Farqhaur were sent to Tampa Bay in exchange for Starting Pitcher Nathan Karns and young Outfielder Boog Powell. Before long, Dipoto became the most active GM in baseball. Notable players such as Adam Lind, Wade Miley, Norichika Aoki, Steve Cishek, Leonys Martin, Joaquin Benoit, Chris Ianneta, Nick Vincent and Dae-Ho Lee all made their way to Seattle.
With big name players coming in, others were on their way out. Names such as Carson Smith, Tom Wilhelmsen, Mark Trumbo and Roenis Elias found themselves in new uniforms to begin the 2016 season. Hishashi Iwakuma and Franklin Gutierrez returned to the Mariners after becoming free agents at the end of the 2015 season. New manager Scott Servais, along with new pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr and bench coach Tim Bogar joined returning hitting coach and Mariners great Edgar Martinez on the Mariners coaching staff.
The Mariners entered the year with high hopes after a disappointing 2015 campaign. Dipoto’s new team fit his original description of an athletic outfield that was made to play at Safeco Field. Martin patrolled center field, a platoon of Franklin Gutierrez and Seth Smith took over in right and Aoki roamed around in left. Newcomers Dae-Ho Lee and Adam Lind took command of first base. Iannetta and Steve Clevenger would head up the battery behind the plate. A bullpen of bounce back candidates was just the kind that Dipoto relied upon with new closer Steve Cishek leading the charge. The Seattle Mariners entered 2016 hoping to turn a new leaf in the Jerry Dipoto era. The Mariners have not made the playoffs since their historic 2001 season and now hold the longest playoff drought in the MLB, something Dipoto plans on changing during his tenure with Seattle.
Seattle began the season by taking two out of three from their division rivals in Texas. Sparks flew in game two of the series as the Mariners scored ten runs, six of which came in the eighth inning. Former Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen came in to pitch and gave up a pair of homeruns to both Seth Smith and Robinson Cano along with a double to Kyle Seager. Tensions rose soon after as Wilhelmsen pegged catcher Chirs Iannetta in the back of the leg after surrendering four runs. Both benches cleared as new Mariners manager Scott Servais and 2015 American League Manager of the Year Jeff Banister exchanged words across the field. The two sides were eventually cooled down and the game proceeded after Wilhelmsen was ejected from the ballgame. Luis Sardinas then hit a two-run homerun off the next pitcher, capping off the six-run inning. It was game two and the Mariners had already set the tone for the entire season.
Overall, the Mariners finished April with a record of 13-10. According to baseballreference.com, seven of those wins came against division opponents and the AL West seemed to be a slugfest early. After an uncharacteristic 2015, Robinson Cano came into 2016 recovering from double hernia surgery and also with a bit to prove. Robbie finished April with 8 homeruns and 24 RBI (Runs Batted In) while playing above average defense. Cano seemed to be an early MVP candidate if the Mariners were to make the playoffs. On the flip side, Kyle Seager began the season slowly as he has throughout his career, hitting .159 while racking up 15 strikeouts in the month according to ESPN.com. Of course, nobody knew that Kyle Seager was on pace to have arguably his best year yet in a Mariners uniform.
May was very kind to the Mariners as two 4-game winning streaks led the Mariners to a 17-11 record with an overall record of 30-21, according to baseballreference.com. The Mariners were one of the hottest teams in the game with a .286 batting average (AVG) and .346 on base percentage (OBP). The Mariners found themselves in first place in May, playing much better than anyone’s expectations. One of the biggest surprises for the Mariners was the longball. Through the first two months of the season, the Mariners had hit a total of 77 home runs. Cano already had 15 after hitting only 21 in 2015 while Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager had both mashed 10. Safeco Field has always been known as a “pitchers ballpark” but don’t tell the Mariners that. They finished the year top five in home runs, RBI and OBP, according to MLB.com.
All that hitting was on display in the second game of June. The Mariners found themselves in an early 12-2 hole in the fifth inning in San Diego against the Padres. Starter Wade Miley got knocked around before Mike Montgomery took over in relief. The Mariners showed their resilience and determination from the sixth inning on in what became one of the biggest comebacks in baseball history. Seager drove a double into right field, scoring both Seth Smith and Cano. Newcomer Dae-Ho Lee then smashed a 3-run homer to left, cutting the Padres lead to 12-7. The game flipped in the Mariners favor in the seventh inning as Seager drove in two more runs before Lee singled the other way to score Cano. The score was now 12-10 Padres. Catcher Chris Iannetta promptly singled Seager home and then Stefen Romero tied the game up with a single to center. The Mariners weren’t done there as Shawn O’Malley got in on the action, driving in Iannetta. Aoki joined the fun, scoring Romero on a single of his own before Gutierrez put the nail in the coffin with a 2-run single to center. The M’s went on to win the game 16-13 and split the series 1-1 with the Padres.
The energy from the game dissipated later in the month and the Mariners finished June with an abysmal record of 10-18, making them 40-39 on the year according to baseballreference.com. Floating just above .500, many began to write the team off as they have in prior years. As the calendar flipped to July, fans and analysts alike began to wonder if the Mariners would become sellers at the deadline and whether the Dipoto plan was a pipe dream. Felix Hernandez had been placed on the 15-day disabled list at the end of May, Taijuan Walker was beginning to lose his feel for his fastball and the bullpen was in shambles. Evan Scribner, Charlie Furbush and Ryan Cook were still fighting the injury bug, a Steve Cishek save had become an adventure and the Lind/Lee platoon began to struggle.
With the trade deadline looming, it was expected that Jerry Dipoto would again be active like he was during the offseason. It wasn’t a question of if there would be trade, but if big names would be coming or going. However, Dipoto shocked the baseball world when he made but one major trade, sending lefty Montgomery to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for first base prospect Dan Vogelbach. The controversial move led skeptics to believe the Mariners would be selling from the Major League roster but the team instead let the deadline pass without making much noise.
The Mariners finished July with a 12-12 record and remained just one game above .500 according to baseballreference.com. While the team on the field was mediocre at best, the Seattle Mariners franchise and their fans had plenty to celebrate. On July 24, 2016 Ken Griffey Jr. became the first player ever to enter the Hall of Fame in a Mariners cap. Griffey earned the highest vote percentage in history for a Hall of Fame inductee. During his emotional acceptance speech, Griffey noted that he is “Damn proud to be a Seattle Mariner.”
At that point in the season, as the Mariners playoff hopes began to dwindle, it became all about Griffey. On Aug. 6 the Mariners retired Junior’s number 24 and it will forever be hung next to the late great Jackie Robinson’s number 42. During Griffey’s speech at Safeco Field he made a statement that resonated with the team for the rest of the season and became the motto of the Mariners. Griffey looked over at the team and simply said “Keep Fighting.” In no time at all, the Mariners fan base created the #KeepFighting brand and the Mariners listened. Whether someone believes in superstition or not, the Mariners were different after that speech and turned their season into one of the most memorable in Mariners history.
On Aug. 2 the Mariners removed a struggling Cishek from his role as close and replaced him with flamethrower Edwin Diaz. Diaz, 22, had been with the big league club since the end of June and had been used in increasingly difficult situations since he had been called up. A starting pitcher at the beginning of the year, Dipoto transferred Diaz to the bullpen while still pitching for AA Jackson. Diaz did not disappoint, finishing the year with a 2.79 Earned Run Average while racking up 18 saves and 88 strikeouts according to ESPN.com.
The playoff race began to tighten up after the Mariners finished August with a record of 16-14, according to baseballreference.com. While it may not be a sparkling record, a winning record was a step in the right direction. The race for the West was also a tight one as the Mariners and the Rangers were set to have an all-important three game series to end the month, but the Rangers swept the Mariners with ease. However the month of September was very kind to the Mariners and each game seemed like a must win. Seattle did not disappoint, winning 18 of their 27 ballgames and growing ever closer to a wild card spot. The Mariners took three of four from the Rangers and then opened up an eight game winning streak, sweeping the Athletics and Angels in the process. An even more important series against the Toronto Blue Jays, the holder of the second wild card spot, was held in Safeco where the Blue Jays promptly took two of the three games right out from under the Mariners.Going into the final week of the season, the Mariners remained just a few games back of the Wild Card and their first playoff game since 2001.
On Oct. 1, the Mariners were one game back of a wild card spot with only two games left to play. After a win from the Blue Jays, the Mariners had to win their game that day to stay in the hunt, half a game behind Detroit. The entire season rode on the outcome of game 161 and the Mariners turned to their most consistent and durable pitcher of the season, Iwakuma. The city of Seattle was a buzz as fans headed through the gates of Safeco Field. The Mariners would face the last place Oakland A’s in the biggest game at Safeco in recent memory.
Things were looking good until Iwakuma faltered in the third, allowing 4 runs to cross the plate, giving the A’s a 4-2 lead. Another run crossed in the fourth and manager Scott Servias finally removed Iwakuma from the game in hopes to keep the deficit at only three. The Mariners answered back. Cano smashed his career best 39th home run of the season, a two run shot off of A’s pitcher Jharel Cotton. The A’s promptly got one back in the sixth and another in the seventh, making the Mariners playoff hopes seem bleak. However, in the words of Ken Griffey Jr, the M’s kept fighting. Facing a 7-4 score, Cano singled home Aoki and then Cruz mashed one of the biggest and most exciting home runs of the season, tying the ballgame at seven. An overused Mariners bullpen could not keep up though and the A’s got the lead back in the eighth. That lasted all of a half inning when rookie Ben Gamel hit a game tying single to right and the entire Mariners season was going to come down to extra innings. However, the magic would die in the 10th as Joey Wendle hit a double off of the Mariners Edwin Diaz and the Mariners fell just short in the bottom half of the inning and lost 9-8. The Mariners would not make the playoffs in 2016, but it took until game 161 of 162 to seal their fate.
While many say baseball is too long of a season, it takes all 162 games to decide a winner. This rings true to Mariners fans as Seattle fell one game short in 2014. However the two teams were very different. The 2014 ball club relied heavily on a stellar bullpen while the 2016 squad used the home run ball to their advantage. Even though 2016 may not have ended the way the city of Seattle had hoped, the future is bright for the M’s. Players such as Gamel, Vogelbach and Edwin Diaz could become cornerstones of the franchise in the future with the already solid middle of the order. Cruz put up consistent numbers to last year and Seager and Cano had the best years of their careers. The three combined for 112 home runs and became one of the most fearsome 3-4-5 hitters in the game. While they had fantastic years, players such as Lind, Ketel Marte and Felix Hernandez did not live up to expectations. The Seattle fans will have to wait at least one more year to see their team in playoff baseball but with Jerry Dipoto at the helm, the upcoming offseason could be a wild one. One thing is for sure. There’s hope for the Mariners, and the city of Seattle better believe that this team will keep fighting next year.
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning student news of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2017. Twitter/Instagram @puyalluppost
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