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The topic of this team – and particularly the pitching staff – having a high variance of outcomes in 2017 has been discussed to death. But, it’s a topic for a reason. You could see these starters collectively falling on their faces, collectively carrying this team to 100+ wins, or anywhere in between. My point of contention is that it feels like the odds of the starters stinking up the joint far outweighs the odds of them dominating.
I can plausibly see a bounce-back year out of Felix, because he’s the be-all end-all for human beings. Drew Smyly is a total unknown, and I’m always at least a little guarded whenever we bring in someone from another organization. He’s coming off of a down year as well, but at least he’s coming off of a year where he made 30 starts. Anything goes with Smyly, but I highly doubt we’re going to see a huge uptick in productivity. I’m firmly on the record that there’s no way Iwakuma stays healthy for a second consecutive season, so at the very least I’m anticipating a 15-day DL stint. On top of that, his best season by a million miles was in 2013; we’re never seeing those days again. I feel like our best-case scenario for Kuma is an exact repeat of last season, which was just sort of okay. And as for Gallardo, *giant fart noise*.
The only candidate for a tremendous step forward is one James Paxton. He started the 2016 season in Tacoma, worked on his mechanics, and was called up at the beginning of June to slide into the rotation. After a spotty couple of months, Paxton started to bear down, culminating in his finest start of the season when he pitched into the 9th inning against the Angels, giving up 0 earned runs. Unfortunately, that’s also the game where he took a liner off of his pitching arm and had to go on the DL for a little over two weeks. He was able to return for the stretch run, but was never quite the same in those final 7 starts, mostly reverting to his early-season form.
Nevertheless, he’s a big, young guy with a power arm. We tend to go into every new season thinking This Could Be So-And-So’s Breakout Year, but in the case of Paxton, we might actually be there. I’m at least not willing to rule it out.
Felix is this team’s ace, and even if he comes back and pitches like he did last year, he’s still going to feast on the weaker teams, and he’s going to keep the Mariners in most ballgames overall; an improved offense could even see him get to 20 wins for the first time, albeit probably with an inflated ERA. Kuma is the consummate 50/50 guy who will be terrible half the time and great the other half. An improved offense might see his win total spike a little bit, but he is who he is. Smyly feels like another guy who’s just going to eat innings and maintain a .500 record. And, here’s to hoping the offense is able to pick up the #5 starter so it’s not a total drain. If you figure those four starters are going to get you maybe 55 wins or so, with the bullpen set to get you 25 or so, that gets you to 80 wins for the entire pitching staff not named James Paxton.
So, can he get us 15 wins? If you think 95 wins gets you the division, then you gotta be rooting for Paxton to take a significant role in that. It’s a tall order, to be sure, as his previous high in wins was 6. That means he not only needs to stay healthy for the full season, but he needs to be really fucking good.
(also, not for nothing, but those 80 wins get chipped away the more this team has to deal with injuries in its rotation, so let’s just hope no one gets injured ever, okay?)
If he’s ever going to do it, no time like the present. He’s even more critically important if this team does make the playoffs. You know Felix is going to get slotted into the first game of any series if this team can swing it; unless a trade gets made at the deadline, Paxton is clearly this team’s most talented #2 starter. So, we need him on his game in 2017 to prove to the organization that he’s capable of taking the reigns. That slots Iwakuma or Smyly into the #3 role where they belong.
I know that’s getting ahead of things, but as long as we’re putting the cart before the horse, can I just BEG the Mariners to go all in for an ace starting pitcher at the trade deadline to really bolster our chances?