Strong but not strong enough

Beau Baily | Evergreen columnist

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Every February, excitement rolls in about the Seattle Mariners. A new team, new acquired players, and new hope.

But by the end of April, all of that excitement evaporates, and hopes and dreams turn into apathy and dread.

The Mariners have been too bad for too long, and they have gone about trying to turn things around in completely the wrong way.

The Mariners have taken a complete 180 degree turn away from what Jack Zduriencik’s original blueprint was for the team was when he was first hired as general manager before the 2009 season. Back then the team was built around pitching and defense. Now, they are giving up on that plan for one that is more offensive.

Basically, the front office is coming out and saying their plan failed, it didn’t work, sorry, maybe this new one will.

An article published in December by Geoff Baker left many fans questioning the competency of the Mariners’ front office and why Eric Wedge left after last year. Could it be the philosophy shift from pitching and defense to offense?

Last season was the first that Zduriencik blew up the original blueprint in hopes of jump-starting what had been one of worst offenses in baseball of the previous 10 years. The results were impressive on the surface, but deep down there wasn’t much improvement.

In 2012, The Mariners ranked 27th out of 30 teams in runs scored with 619. They hit 149 home runs, and 249 doubles. In 2013, they ranked 22nd, scoring just five more runs than they did in 2012. However, they also hit 188 home runs, which is why it seemed like the offense was better.

Logic would suggest that these numbers will continue to creep up in 2014 with the additions of Robinson Cano and Corey Hart.

However, Seattle sports fans know by now to put logic aside and look at the other side of things, like although the hitting has improved, it is alarming how the quality of pitching decreased last year.

When Zduriencik took over in 2009, the team finished sixth in ERA. Since then the team’s pitching staff has remained in the upper tier of teams, but in 2013, the year the team started building their team around offense, the team finished 27th in ERA, and gave up a total of 702 earned runs.

What’s more alarming is the defensive drop off. In 2012, the Mariners ranked second in team defense, but fell to 14th in 2013. Some fans will remember a May 20 game last year in Cleveland where the Mariners blew leads late in the game twice and ended up losing in extra innings. During the game, Justin Smoak uncharacteristically committed two errors, and Tom Wilhelmson dropped an easy toss at first that would have ended the game but instead cost him the save.

Things could be worse this year. The infield could be solid, but the outfield is a mess. Dustin Ackley is the favorite to start in left field, but it wasn’t long ago when he was at second base because the team was afraid his arm wasn’t strong enough to put him anywhere else.

In center field, Michael Saunders’ defensive play has been the most vanilla thing at Safeco Field since Dip n’ Dots came around circa the team’s last playoff run.

In right field, the team might be better off putting no one out there. The candidates, Logan Morrison and Corey Hart, are both coming off of major knee injuries that have cost them significant playing time during the last couple seasons. Both will be depended on to drive in runs for the team this year, albeit at the cost of their defense.

There is a difference between teams built around pitching and defense and teams built around hitting home runs, and the difference is this: when the team is down 1-0 or 3-2 late in the game, it always has a chance with one swing to take the lead and hang onto it with good pitching and defense. However, more often than not, see Seattle Mariners teams of the 1990s, when it comes to bad pitching, no lead is safe, and that costs you especially on the road when the other team gets the last at bat.

One thing is certain, the Mariners will be better this year, but they won’t truly be a good, playoff team until they acquire talent in all facets of the game at the same time. Not just one facet here or there like they have been under Zduriencik.