My initial impulse was to just leave the body of this post entirely blank.
With the Mariners, you have to adjust expectations. If I had my druthers, the only hitter I’d put on this list who’s worthy of praise is Nelson Cruz. But, to do that would leave off Kyle Seager and Seth Smith, who’d qualify for “Meets Expectations” on any survey you’d run for this team. And, if you really want to scrape the bottom of the barrel, Brad Miller is probably worthy of some praise as well.
For real tho, most of the praise-worthy players are pitchers. You gotta like what Felix has done, following his runner-up status for last year’s Cy Young. He’s not quite as sharp as he was last year – thanks to a couple of real stinky outings – but he’s still the dominating ace we all know and love. I’d like to heap some partial praise on Taijuan Walker for overcoming an awful start to the season. Roenis Elias gets honorable mention for being a professional and not letting our starting rotation sag too much with Paxton and Iwakuma injured. Mike Montgomery deserves generous praise for being amazing since his call-up.
And, for as bad as the bullpen has been at times, guys like Carson Smith, Mark Lowe, Charlie Furbush, and Joe Beimel have kept the flicker of hope alive in what has otherwise been a lost season.
So, let’s rank all the praise-worthy players on this team. Because what better way to spend your Tuesday?
1. Felix Hernandez
11-5 record makes him only one of two starters with a winning record (tied for first in wins in the A.L.). 2.84 ERA is tops among qualified starters on the team (and 11th in the A.L.). He’s got 13 quality starts out of 18, and he’s got 9 Felix Quality Starts (I suppose the definition varies depending on who you ask, but in this case, he has 9 starts where he’s gone at least 7 innings while giving up 1 run or fewer). Oddly enough, he’s actually managed to go 9-0 in those starts (who says the Mariners don’t provide run support???). Felix is Felix, and he’s still the best thing going for this team, no matter how many over-paid hitters we attract.
2. Nelson Cruz
Speaking of, I present to you our other All Star. Cruz is no longer a contender for the Triple Crown, but his .308 batting average is good for 7th in the A.L., his 21 homers are good for 5th, and his 53 RBI are good for 14th. The only problem with his season – as far as I can tell – is his dumpster fire of a June. In that calendar month, he produced the following: .239 batting average, 1 homer, 3 doubles, and 8 RBI. In all other months, he produced the following: .333 batting average, 20 homers, 10 doubles, and 45 RBI. In other words, his June (and probably his defense) prevented him from being #1 on my list.
3. Carson Smith
He’s not perfect, but I’ll be God damned if he’s not impressive almost every time out. Even if he gets hit, he’s still nasty! 1.73 ERA, 47 strikeouts in 36.1 innings, 6 saves & 12 holds in 19 overall opportunities. Most importantly, he’s held the opponent scoreless in 32 of 38 appearances, which is very good. He picked us up when Fernando Rodney went off the rails. And now that Rodney is sort of back, he’s a nice reserve option to have as part of this closer’s committee we’ve got going. I fully anticipate to see Smith as the #1 closer starting next year (if not by the end of this year), and for the next decade to come.
4. Mark Lowe
He has ALMOST been perfect since being called up in early May. As a guy who was an afterthought in Spring Training, he’s become our best reliever in almost no time at all. 0.64 ERA, 37 strikeouts in 28 innings, 10 holds in 11 opportunities (most of those coming in June & July, as the team brought him along with less stressful situations in his first month back). He’s given up runs in only 3 of his 28 appearances, which is insane. Nice to have him back.
5. Kyle Seager
Seager being Seager. His 2015 is nearly a carbon copy of his 2014, which is nearly a carbon copy of every single year he’s been in the Majors. .269 batting average, 12 homers & 19 doubles, 39 RBI, and fairly solid defense (with a slight uptick in errors, as he has 8 already, while he had 8 all of last year). He’s the organization’s Golden Boy and Jackie Z’s finest draft pick. Too bad Z will have to watch him from afar after this year.
6. Mike Montgomery
Mike Montgomery has been nothing short of phenomenal since being called up. When you think about it, he was 7th on the depth chart for starting pitchers. This was a big concern coming into the season – considering Iwakuma’s recent struggles, Happ’s career-long struggles, and how young & injury-prone Paxton & Walker have been in their brief careers – what would happen if 2 or more starters went down at the same time? Well, we had Roenis Elias marinating in Tacoma, so that wasn’t too bad. He had a full year’s experience in the Majors, so you figure there wouldn’t be too big of a drop-off there. But, how often do you get through a full season with only six starters? Of course we’d need a seventh eventually! In years past, we’ve been stuck with the likes of Blake Beavan and Erasmo Ramirez. Suffice it to say, Montgomery has been a HUGE upgrade.
7. Charlie Furbush
I tend to give Furbush a hard time, but he’s been mostly solid since converting to a reliever a few years ago. His mistakes tend to look worse than they are because not only is he a reliever (so every blow-up is magnified), but he’s also a lefty specialist, which means he tends to be only used against left-handed hitters when the game is on the line. So, his small sample is even smaller than most regular relievers. But, this year he’s REALLY been a strength for this team. It helps when someone like Wilhelmsen is taking the mantle of 2015 Mariners Reliever Who Gives Up The Most Inherited Runs, which I’m pretty sure Furbush owned in 2014.
8. Brad Miller
His defense has improved and his offense is slowly starting to get better. He’s still far from consistent – which I think is what bugs a lot of Mariners fans. He’s GOT the tools; he SHOULD be a superstar! Instead, he’s only been a couple steps above Ackley, which is not the company you want to keep. Nevertheless, the future remains bright for Miller, and it will remain in the future until he figures out how to put it all together.
9. Seth Smith
Sometimes, doing exactly what you’re asked to do is all that we need. Sometimes, just playing to the back of your baseball card makes you one of the more beloved new players on a team. Seth Smith has 218 at bats against righties; 17 at bats against lefties. While his numbers against lefties look good, remember that’s about as small a sample as you can get from a guy who plays ALMOST everyday. Still, he’s been a godsend in his role and I wouldn’t mind seeing that role continue beyond this season.
10. Taijuan Walker
He had back-to-back crappy starts to lead into the All Star Break, but before that, he was as good as it gets for 7 starts in a row. Those 7 starts are the reason why he’s on this list, because for the better part of the first two months of the season, he was mostly garbage and well on his way down to Tacoma. I won’t sit here and expect perfection out of a rookie starter, but steady improvement would be a big help. I’ve seen enough improvement out of Walker to be pleased with what he’s done. And, the fact that he’s remained healthy is a definite plus.
11. Joe Beimel
We thought we could get through this season without a Joe Beimel. We still had Furbush, Tyler Olson was the talk of Spring Training, David Rollins was a Rule 5 reliever we plucked away from the Astros … there just wasn’t any room for an aging lefty specialist. Beimel kicked around a couple camps, was let go by everyone, and took a chance on returning with the Mariners. We ended up bringing him back up to Seattle in early May – when it was clear Olson wasn’t adjusting well to Major League life after Spring Training – and he’s been our rock ever since. He can get you out of a jam and he can eat up innings in a lost cause. Glad to have him back.
12. Roenis Elias
I always thought Elias kind of got a raw deal in Spring Training. Seemed to me he was just written off, even though he was a fine back-end starter for us in 2014. He started off in Tacoma – as our reserve 6th starter – and was called up when Iwakuma went down. He proceeded to rattle off 9 quality starts out of 13 total, and would still be up here if it weren’t for Mike Montgomery blowing the roof off the stadium. Either way, if he makes it through the rest of 2015 healthy, I would expect him to make a great case as our fifth starter next year.