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May 17, 2013 at 9:35 AM

Mariners have been here before, but this feels different

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The Mariners could be a .500 team again as early as tonight. Not that this is all that unusual, or late in the season.

Remember, it was only two years ago that the Mariners were a .500 team on July 5 after a win in Oakland. What happened after that was a 17-game losing streak that scuttled the season.

Could that happen this year, too? Sure, it could. But I don’t think it will. No, I suspect this current shot at .500 will lead these Mariners to a place they found themselves in 2009 when they won 85 games. Maybe this team can even exceed that, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Here’s why I think this year will be different.

The biggest is that this team has an offense that is already more or less set. The 2011 squad was running on fumes and needed at least two big bats to be imported at the trade deadline to have even a remote chance. That squad was batting Adam Kennedy cleanup at times and he simply hit the wall from overuse at the midway point.

This year’s team has no such problems. Despite the continued inability to get any offense out of the shortstop position, the Mariners still have enough bats to go toe-to-toe with any team on most nights. And the offense has yet to even reach its peak and fully click. We’ll see whether Franklin Gutierrez can eventually be counted on for anything and if he can be, what a bonus that would feel like.

This team also has young bats like Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino that can be added mid-season if need be with no additional cost to the team.

There are some needs the Mariners will have to address if they stay .500 by mid-season and hope to make a late run. Another starting pitcher seems critical and I’m not just talking about the addition of Danny Hultzen. Maybe Joe Saunders emerges into a dependable mid-rotation guy, but right now he’s not it. He’s pitching like a fourth starter at best. The Mariners, if they want to extend this run beyond July, will eventually need to acquire a rotation piece.

The bullpen has also been a mess of sorts at times, largely because of the injury to Stephen Pryor. Right now, the team is too lefty-heavy, but again, if Pryor returns, that problem could be solved.

I suppose you could say the biggest difference between now and two years ago is that the Mariners will no longer have to rely as heavily on ownership to step up. Back in 2011, owners would have had to step up big, add heavily to mid-season payroll and resist the urge to trade away Erik Bedard. That was never going to happen. The Mariners were hell-bent on dealing Bedard that season and the 17-game losing streak gave them the perfect excuse to make that deal — saving millions in the process — and trade away Doug Fister as well.

In other words, the Mariners were never going to get their needed bats that year. And they certainly were not going to be able to keep their stellar rotation intact. There was a budget that needed to be met and the Mariners weren’t going to let a little thing like surprise contention stand in their way.

This year? Ownership won’t be needed as much. The team has pieces it can deal, both in the minors and maybe the majors if they want to acquire another rotation arm. There should also be some money room left in the budget as well since Michael Bourn was never signed, nor Nick Swisher, nor some other potential free agent acquisitions.

Again, the adds this team would need to stay a winning club won’t be as ample. For me, that makes all the difference.

 

Comments | More in roster | Topics: franklin gutierrez; joe saunders; mike zunino; nick franklin

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