I’m finding it harder and harder to get angry over the end result of yet another season without the playoffs. But, let’s just let that sink in for a while and see if the rage comes back.
With every regime change, it feels like you start your fandom all over again. True, the Seattle Mariners have gone 15 consecutive seasons without reaching the playoffs, but Jerry Dipoto’s Seattle Mariners are only on an 0 for 1 streak! He improved over the 2015 Mariners, and had us contending for that second wild card spot up to the very end of the season. Had a couple things gone differently, maybe we’re in there against either Baltimore or Toronto, fighting for an opportunity to get into the ALDS.
This year was especially different, because it not only saw the Mariners bring in a new GM, but also a change in ownership. No more Howard Lincoln to kick around! Whether it had any bearing on the 2016 season, or the direction of this franchise going forward, it feels – as a fan – like a clean slate. That dark cloud of incompetence has lifted with the infusion of fresh blood. This isn’t the team with the longest playoff drought in the entirety of the Major Leagues; for all intents and purposes, we’re looking at an expansion team, and a stacked one at that.
Were the 2016 season Year 8 of the Jack Zduriencik regime, I think I’d feel a lot differently than I do. A new regime brings with it new hope. A winning season falling just short of the playoffs – knowing you’re THIS CLOSE to being relevant – means that we’re just a couple pieces here and there from taking the next step NEXT year.
But, just because there are new people in place at the top, doesn’t mean we forget what’s come before this. These still are the Seattle Mariners! An inept franchise for the bulk of its existence, with a brief window of competence from 1995 to 2001. I’m into my third decade of rooting on this team, and it’s been a non-stop parade of misery from the start.
I really wanted 2016 to be the year to break the string. Our stars aren’t getting any younger, for one, and it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll have many stars coming up through the pipeline in the next few seasons. I REALLY wanted to see Felix get a taste of post-season life, because he deserves it more than anyone. And, quite frankly, I’ve seen this group of guys go on a hot streak. If we could’ve maintained our high level of performance from our pitching staff, the sky was the limit for this team. With Paxton on the hill, I like our chances in a 1-game playoff. From there, let the chips fall where they may and see what happens.
As it stands, the lasting image I have for this team – the image I can’t get out of my head – is Felix in the dugout, with his head against the railing after the Mariners lost to the A’s on October 1st to officially eliminate us from the playoffs. That’s 12 years of frustration and anguish, personified. One more year on the outside looking in. One more year of utter failure.
In spite of what I’ve written before (which you really should read, if you want more vitriol in your season-ending Mariners wrap-up post), there’s a lot to like about our chances in 2017. We’ve still got our core guys locked in place – Felix, Cano, Cruz, Seager, Kuma – and a bunch of other guys who helped us go pretty far this year – Smith, Diaz, Cishek, Paxton, Walker, Miranda, Martin, Zunino, Iannetta, Marte. While you’re right to be concerned about Dipoto’s trades thus far in his Mariners career, you have to admit he was able to find some diamonds in the rough in his free agent signings. If Dan Vogelbach can stick – and truth be told, he’s been able to hit well at every level so far in his young career – we could be poised to make a big jump next year.
But, I’ve got a whole offseason to talk about that. For now, you know what? I’m going to feel okay about the 2016 Mariners. This was a fun team to root for, that gave us a lot of wonderful memories. Huge walk-off hits from Lind, Martin, Cano, and Dae-ho Lee, among others; the epic Ken Griffey Jr. Weekend in early August to kickstart our comeback drive to contention; and a wild September run that saw us fall JUST short. Feel however you want to feel, but any season that allows me to check the standings on a daily basis down the stretch to try to figure out our path to the post-season is ultimately an entertaining one, if nothing else.
Maybe don’t go overboard. Failing to make the playoffs isn’t something to be proud of. I’m not going to say “Good Job,” or “You Did Your Best,” or any of those other pithy platitudes. We’ve been down this road before. We’ve been close to the playoffs as recently as 2014; we’ve had winning seasons in 2009 & 2007. Each of those years have seen bountiful hope and optimism heading into subsequent seasons. In 2015, the Mariners won 11 fewer games than the previous year, ending up 76-86; in 2010, the Mariners won 24 fewer games than the previous year, ending up 61-101; in 2008, the Mariners won 27 fewer games than the previous year, ending up 61-101 again. In this run of futility that started with the Bill Bavasi regime, winning seasons haven’t been building blocks so much as edges of cliffs for the franchise to fall from. There are plenty of reasons to think 2017 will be different, but that’s what we said after 2007, 2009, and 2014 as well.
Be careful out there, is what I’m getting at. Don’t set yourself up for a big fall by setting expectations too high. I’m mostly saying this to myself, because every year I get suckered in, and every year I’m left drained. Let’s take the Wait & See approach and hopefully the Mariners will prove they’ve broken the curse.
I don’t know what Seattle did to deserve the Mariners, but at some point we have to be rewarded for sticking by this team all these years, right? I mean, Cleveland can’t have ALL the sports glory, can it?