The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

For the Mariners, it may be 1996 all over again

M’s struggles in 2023 erriely familiar
The view inside the Mariner’s home Kingdome during the 1996 Season. Blake Handley via Wikimedia

As I walked out of T-Mobile Park, June 27, I passed the Seattle Mariners clearance sale of 2022 Postseason merchandise.

It was minutes after the Mariners failed to score a single run in the bottom of the 10th with no outs and the bases loaded to lose 7-4 to the lowly Washington Nationals in 11 innings.

The last thing the M’s deserved was any more of my money, but being the True to the Blue, nostalgic trident-loving blind disciple that I am, I could not resist the 75% off bargain and bought a Mariners ball cap adorned with the “POSTSEASON” and “2022” design on the side. 

In my defense, the cap was eight bucks.

Sam Taylor
The Mariners 2022 postseaon hat was on-sale with a 75% discount, June 27 at T-Mobile Park.

The sale sent a clear message. With the only Mariners postseason home game of my lifetime, eight months old, the M’s store needed to move on, both to make room for All-Star Game merch and because the fans have moved on too.

We’ve been here before.

Every sports fan has expectations, but the 2023 Mariners were supposed to be special. Manager Scott Servais certainly thought so.

Remember that Opening Day hype video in which Servias writes the M’s goal to “Win It All” on a whiteboard?

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The 2015 Mariners were supposed to “Win It All” After a 2014 season that saw Seattle win 87 games behind the dazzling play of $24 million-per-year Robinson Cano, Cy Young-runner up King Felix and a steady bullpen, the M’s added the silver-slugging Boomstick, Nelson Cruz to the mix.

The 2016, ‘17 and ‘18 M’s were supposed to do something. New management kept the core together. They were fun, but the playoff drought was three years older when it was all said and done.

Then General Manger Jerry Dipoto tore it all down and began a rebuild. A rebuild that has netted the team a slew of promising talent, from Ty France to Jarred Kelenic, and led to two straight 90-win seasons and the Mariners’ first playoff berth in 21 years.

As I said, we’ve been here before, but fans old enough to remember the 1996 season have perhaps the worst case of expectation-induced whiplash.

The ‘96 Seattle Mariners were the first M’s squad with any semblance of reasonable pre-season expectations.

Fresh off a magical playoff run in 1995, which, in addition to being the franchise’s first postseason trip in its then-18-year history, quite literally saved professional baseball in Seattle, the ‘96 Mariners simply failed to live up to the hype.

The 1996 season was technically the best and most complete regular season in franchise history up to that point as they set the franchise record with 85 wins. 

The Mariners needed only 79 wins to win the AL West in ‘95, while 85 wins were good for second place in ‘96 behind a surprisingly dominant 90-win Texas Rangers squad.

The triumph of the ‘95 Mariners required a tragedy by the California Angels, who lost a 13.5 game August lead in the division by losing a lot. The Mariners made up the ground by winning a lot.

It all led to the greatest moment in franchise history, simply known as “The Double.” Edgar Martinez’s 11th-inning walk-off two-RBI double to beat the Yankees in front of 57,000 fans packed into the Kingdome for Game 5 of the franchise’s first ALDS is the pinnacle moment fans, players and the Mariners organization proudly revisit often.

The Mariners made the playoffs three more times during the next six seasons with the 2001 M’s winning an MLB-record-tying 116 games in the regular season. Over a decade later, Seattle was home to baseball’s 23rd Perfect Game as Félix Hernández made history on the afternoon of Aug. 15, 2012, at Safeco Field. However,“The Double” remains the crown jewel of Mariners history. 

It represents a spirit the franchise has tapped into in moments since but seeks to sustain.

As of June 19, the Mariners had a better record than they did at that point a year prior. On June 19, 2022, the Mariners were six games below .500 after a dismal 3-8 homestand and sweep by the Angels.

It took an outstanding back 60% of the season which included a franchise-tying 14-game win streak and a second half in which the Mariners only lost two series to win 90 games in ‘22 and make the playoffs as the American League’s second wild card.

In ‘22, the Mariners broke their 21-year playoff drought in magical fashion. Their knack for one-run wins was impeccable and the electric factory of T-Mobile Park was rocking, right up until the end of the season.

The Mariners’ fifth playoff run was reminiscent of their first playoff run in 1995 in the kind of romantic way a postseason run invites, where even the biggest deficits (The Angels’ 13.5 game division lead in August of ‘95 or Toronto’s seven-run lead in the second ‘22 AL Wild Card game) were not safe. 

Fast forward to 2023 and the Mariners want more of that irreplaceable postseason magic.

The Mariners’ offense has been among the worst in baseball and the team has lost about as much as they have won. There are a variety of factors to attribute to that which have been covered in great length by writers far more qualified than me, but I will recap the sentiments nonetheless.

  1. Virtually every hitter is underperforming
  2. The newcomers had a slow start or continue to underperform
  3. Pitching is not perfect, nor immune to injury
  4. The Mariners have lacked any semblance of baseball competence or urgency whether the score is 0-0 in the second inning or 4-4 in the 10th

Just as the ‘23 M’s retained their core from ‘22, the ‘96 team retained most of their major league talent between seasons, including Ken Griffey, Jr, Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson.

The most significant departure was Tino Martinez, who the Mariners traded to the New York Yankees.

Griffey missed a significant portion of the ‘95 season with injury but in ‘96 returned to his prime norms with a slash line of .303 / .392 / .628 (1.020 OPS).

Edgar did not exactly reach some of his career-high numbers from ‘95, but he got close in ‘96. His batting average fell 19 points, his on-base percentage fell 15 points and his OPS fell 48 points from their career-highs of .356, .479 and 1.107 respectively. 

Even with this slight decline, Edgar still rocked an OPS north of 1.000 and equaled his career highs of 121 runs scored and 52 doubles, also from ‘95. One Hall of Fame-caliber season, in an incredible HOF career.

Randy Johnson’s ‘96 campaign ended in August so he could receive back surgery. The 6-foot-10 ‘95 AL Cy Young Winner ended the season with a 3.67 ERA in just 14 games (eight starts). He walked 25 and struck out 85 in 61.1 innings after a ‘95 season in which he struck out 294 in 214.1 innings.

Despite Johnson’s health concerns, the team catapulted classic excellence from Griffey and Martinez and a breakout campaign from All-Star phoneme Rodgriguez into their then-best regular season in franchise history. The key difference between ‘95 and ‘96 was, the Rangers (AL West Champion) and Baltimore Orioles (AL Wildcard) were better.

Even if the Mariners miraculously turn this season around, they have to contend with seven other AL teams in front of or close behind them in the Wild Card standings.

This affirms a fear M’s fans had since the team failed to do much of anything over the offseason. The Mariners don’t have enough difference-makers on offense

It certainly doesn’t help when 2022 AL Rookie of the Year Julio Rodríguez is slumping as only a sophomore can, Jarred Kelenic is slumping after a terrific start and the team strikes out more than 27 other MLB teams.

After the Mariners lost a series to the NL cellular-dwelling Nationals, they hosted the Tampa Bay Rays, baseball’s best team (in terms of wins).

Friday night’s result was predictable but cruel. M’s pitcher Bryce Miller left the game with a blister and his club’s once 4-0 lead disappeared as the Rays scored 15 unanswered runs to win 15-4.

Then, the M’s looked a bit different.

The next day, the club relied on George Kirby to pitch seven beautiful frames behind an offense that had five batters reach base at least twice and never trailed.

Sunday seemed all too predictable. The Rays jumped out to an early 6-1 lead in just three innings versus Luis Castillo, the Mariners’ rock-solid ace, who several hours earlier learned he was bound for the All-Star game in Seattle.

The M’s scored six unanswered runs to take a 7-6 lead. Their three-headed monster of Andrés Muñoz, Matt Brash and Paul Sewald kept the Rays scoreless through the final three innings and the M’s won 7-6.

The M’s could figure it out. If they don’t, you can add this season to the list of hyped-up wannabe postseason Mariners teams that were finished before they started.

What I do know though is the 36,000 fans who walked out of T-Mobile Park, Sunday had a much different experience than I did the Tuesday prior. Bad teams win huge series and good teams lose series they should win (the A’s beat the Rays in a series earlier this month), but the spirit in the building over the weekend was real.

What remains to be seen is: are the Mariners a bad team that won a huge series vs. the Rays or a good team that lost a bad series vs. the Nationals, or somewhere in the cruel in-between?

We will know soon enough. GOMS!

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About the Contributor
SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor
Sam is a senior multimedia journalism major from Lacey, Washington and the sports editor for spring 2024. He was the sports editor for the 2022-23 school year and managing editor for the summer and fall 2023. He plays the trumpet in the Cougar Marching Band, loves sports and has worked at the Evergreen since fall 2021.