Prove-it time for Mariners
Seattle is on pace for another 90-loss campaign.
For a team that needs so badly to turn a corner along with that page in the calendar, Saturday's ninth-inning meltdown in Minnesota was just the latest piece of bad news for a team that has seen plenty of it early this season.
Even if Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Twins was a bad way to kick off June, we are in fact in a new month, which makes this a pretty good time for the Mariners to show us something. This coming month, and really, the rest of this season, is prove-it time for the Mariners, who just over third of the way through the season, are on pace for another 90-loss campaign.
The Mariners should be happy to close the door on May, a month that saw them play 17 of 26 games on the road, suffer through an eight-game losing streak, a bunch of injuries, and most discouraging, the demotion of two players, Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero, who are supposed to be big contributors to this franchise's present and future, but who instead were struggling so badly that they were sent to Tacoma.
Following today's game in Minnesota, the Mariners play 10 in a row and 18 of their next 25 at Safeco Field. So nowas the schedule becomes more favorable, they need to take strides to show that general manager Jack Zduriencik's plan can work.
Heading into this season, it was completely understandable that Mariners fans were frustrated with a franchise that hasn't been to the postseason in over a decade. Still, you also could make a case that Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge had slowly been making progress.
Zduriencik took over a team that was a mess at the time of his hiring in 2008, and after the Mariners bottomed out with a 101-loss season in 2010, they made slow progress in each of the next two seasons. At the same time, they also were restocking their farm system with highly-regarded prospects who gave hope for the future.
This year, however, was when some of those young players were supposed to take a step forward and, with the addition of some veteran bats, make the Mariners a significantly improved team. So far we haven't seen that.
For the most part, the Mariners most productive players have been veterans like Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse and Jason Bay who are all free agents after this season. Kyle Seager, meanwhile, has been the only member of Seattle's young core to produce consistently.
Back in December after the Mariners signed Bay, Wedge pointed out that no matter who the team added in free agency -- Josh Hamilton was still a free agent at that point -- the team's future really hinged on the growth of players like Justin Smoak, Ackley and Montero.
"The greatest impact we can have on our organization is the collective whole of our core group here," Wedge said. "Obviously there's been a lot of talk about one guy out there (Hamilton) and the impact that he could have, and of course that's on a whole different level, but if you talk about your core group of guys, whether it be your position players, your starting pitchers or your bullpen, that's the greatest impact you're going to have on your club as you move forward."
That's a great thing to say in the offseason, especially if you don't end up landing the big fish in free agency. Hamilton, for what it's worth, has been pretty awful so far this year in Anaheim.
Wedge was right, though. For Mariners to improve, those young players have to lead the way. But with Ackley and Montero in Tacoma and Smoak struggling again -- though to be fair he was showing signs of improvement before an injury sidelined him -- the fact that Wedge's statement in December was accurate helps explain why the Mariners are again on a 90-plus loss pace.
The struggles of so many "can't-miss" prospects brings up the question of why the Mariners are having such a hard time developing young talent.
Yet for as bleak as things might seem two months into the season, there is still plenty of time for the Mariners to show that Zduriencik's plan can work. Maybe Ackley and Montero fix things in Tacoma -- though Montero is facing knee surgery that will keep him out for four to six weeks. Maybe Nick Franklin builds on a promising start and sticks at the big-league level, and maybe with an easier schedule, the Mariners start to turn things around.
So as frustrating as the Mariners have been for so long, there is time this season to show that real progress is being made, but that turnaround needs to start soon.
It's too early to be calling for jobs, but if some significant improvement isn't evident over the next four months, both in terms of victories and player development, change seems inevitable.
Baseball people have long pointed to Memorial Day weekend and said you can't possibly start judging major league teams and players until after then. Well, Memorial Day weekend has passed and the Mariners are more than a third of the way into the season. So, June isn't just a new month for the Mariners, it's prove-it time for a franchise that has let its fans down far too long.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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