The Mariners have had an interesting season thus far. Only one game above .500, yet they are a half-game back in the wild-card race and should be taken seriously as contenders for a playoff spot. Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano have been valuable to the Mariners cause, and other key players like Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders, and Chris Young have chipped in. They are on the edge of a wild-card spot even without the contribution of young talents like Justin Smoak or Dustin Ackley. The youth throughout their lineup have yet to prove their worth and show their talent. The shortstop duo of Miller and Franklin need to improve their play defensively and at the plate if the team wants to climb up the standings. The Mariners are getting less than a .700 OPS not just from defense-first positions such as short and center, where they’ve been testing their prospects, but also at power positions such as first base, left field and DH.
Using youth as an excuse is no longer valid. Smoak is in his fifth season and Ackley his fourth. They’re established veterans who need to start producing. Away from home, Smoak has been decent with a .765 OPS which is slightly above the average for an AL first baseman (.764). Criticism of the Mariners prospects is justified, but it’s important to keep in mind that they are the third youngest club in the majors ahead of the Cubs and Astros. A consensus top-20 prospect Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward have been nothing short of disappointing considering the hype surrounding both after being drafted.
Regardless of the sub-par play from many of the younger players throughout the Mariners lineup their time is now. If they can turn things around and have a solid few months before September everything can be forgiven. It would be the first time they make the playoffs under GM Jack Zduriencik. All his deals since he took the position will be put to the test this season. His draft choices (Ackley, both shortstops and James Paxton) player he signed such as Cano, Young and Rodney, and players he chose to keep like Erasmo Ramirez have formed this present team.
The Mariners best hope of making the playoffs lies in their rotation. The play of Paxton and Walker behing Hernandez and Iwakuma will be telling. It can create a pitching and defense formula that can lead to success. If Cano and Seager can produce enough runs, and Zunino develops into more than a top prospect things may be looking up for the Mariners. Trading away Ackley or Smoak or Franklin wouldn’t be wise since the Mariners probably won’t get much in return.
Zduriencik has done everything he can to create a winning team. From trying pitching and defense, to creating a lineup with plenty of veteran DHs, to trusting youth, to signing a star like Cano, he has tried everything. If the kids can produce and Cano plays like the superstar he is things may just happen for the Mariners this season.