Ever since the All-Star break it has not been easy to be a fan of the Seattle Mariners but it has been a different kind of challenge from what they are used to. Year after year since 2001 fans have dealt with a wide variety of failure, whether the season was doomed from the start and just getting to five hundred seemed like the promise land or missing out on the post season by one lousy game. This year the Mariners and their fans have had to cope with something they have not seen in a while, success. Before the All-Star break the M’s were nineteen games above five hundred and had a commanding lead in the race for the second wild card spot but in the twenty-eight games since they have won thirteen and lost fifteen. At first glance that doesn’t seem too bad and it really isn’t, they only dropped two games and they have dealt with injuries to their star second baseman Dee Gordon, but the unthinkable rise of the Oakland A’s has left the Mariners three and a half games back of the second wild card spot with the season entering the home stretch.
With the longest active playoff drought in professional sports hanging over this franchise, it is safe to say fans are frustrated with the way the second half of the season has played out thus far. There have been changes up and down the roster with guys like Mitch Haniger have hit in four different spots and played in two different positions in the outfield and Dee Gordon has bounced from the infield to the out when he is not scratched before the game starts. A major let down this season, and the second half especially, has been Mike Zunino at catcher. Mike has posted the worst performance of his entire career at the plate with an abysmal .192 batting average and a .248 on base percentage to go along with a whopping one hundred and eighteen strikeouts. Zunino’s horrendous play at the plate has made him a liability, leading to him splitting starts with Chris Herrmann, causing instability for the pitching staff who has built chemistry with Zunino behind the plate. Mike has become an elite catcher with excellent framing and location and his ability to manage and help his pitchers throughout a game is immensely important to this team’s success, making his hitting struggles that much more frustrating and hard to deal with. The dip in performance from Seattle’s bullpen is a prime example of the effect of not having Zunino behind the plate does for the team. Four of the five best performing pitchers for the Mariners since the All-Star break were traded to the team this season and don’t have a connection with Zunino that they depend on and the rest of the pitchers suffering.
The one run wins that Seattle became notorious for in the first half of the season have dissipated with just five wins and four losses in games decided by one run in the second half of the season, compared to twenty-six and eleven in the first half. This was in spite of the way the Mariners were winning games, given the fact they weren’t operating with much of a formula or an identity. Ideally you want your team to be good at everything but that doesn’t happen in the real world, you take what you are good at and you focus on it, the Mariners have bucked the trend however by not being great at any one thing and being above average in nearly everything. Games were nearly always competitive and players would show up and perform in the most important moments during the game. Now with the instability at the catcher position and in the lineup, players are thrown out of their rhythm in a sport where guys can go cold because of something like their favorite bakery changing the type of yeast they make their cinnamon rolls with. The Mariners have become one of the best teams in the league in terms of batting average since the break, yet they are in the bottom seven in terms of runs scored showing that they have lost their ability to step up in the big moments. If they want to make a run and overtake the A’s or even the Astros for the last playoff spot then they need to get back to what got them here and that’s having consistency where it matters most, at catcher, ace, closer, and the top of the line up and allow roll players to step up when they are called upon.