Our next contestants on the Post-Mortem series are the current red-headed step-children of the AL West. That's right, it is the lone team in the division NOT challenging for a playoff spot… the Seattle Mariners!
If you're new here (which about 90% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from the playoffs, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated. Also, for the first ten teams eliminated, we're going to post a series called "Hope for the Hopeless", which is going to be an expanded version of the "What Went Right" portion of the Post-Mortem series pieces.
What Went Right: As usual, the Mariners got a fantastic season out of Felix Hernandez, complete with a perfect game. Depending on how the final two weeks of the season play out, he could well win another Cy Young. Solid starting pitching is nothing new in Seattle though, however a lights out bullpen is. Despite a rough season and eventual trade of Brandon League, the M's developed a potent set of late-inning relievers with the likes of Shawn Kelley, Josh Kinney, Lucas Luetge, Charlie Furbush and, of course, new closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who quietly has been one of the best closers in baseball since taking over for League mid-season.
What Went Wrong: As usual, the Mariners just can't seem to field a competent lineup. If the current numbers hold up, Seattle will finish last in the AL and next to last in MLB in runs scored. In other words, they are going to finish right about where they usually finish offensively. Their lineup is absolutely littered with underachievers like Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp and outright busts like Justin Smoak, Chone FIggins and Brendan Ryan. This is the kind of lineup you put together that results in Phil Humber throwing a perfect game against you.
Most Surprising Player: Just like everyone expected, Seattle got a great season out of a catcher/DH-type. Just like nobody expected, that player turned out to be John Jaso and not Jesus Montero. Granted he seldom ever faced a southpaw, but Jaso's .853 OPS was a team-best and by a pretty wide margin.
Most Disappointing Player: Dustin Ackley was supposed to be the player the Mariners were going to build their lineup around. Dustin Ackley was supposed to lead the offensively-challenged Mariners out of their run-scoring doldrums. Dustin Ackley instead came down with a wicked case of a sophomore slump. Considerin the bar isn't set terribly high for excellence with the bat in Seattle, it should say a lot that Ackley was so bad at points this season that there was very real consideration given to sending him back down to the minors.
Prospects Up: The Mariners boast a cadre of top pitching prospects who were all expected to make big waves this season, and most of them did. The future of the Seattle rotation looks like it is going to be very bright very soon, and the best of the bunch is Taijuan Walker, who didn't turn 20 until mid-August and pitched extremely well in the AA Southern League. The real exciting part though is who they might be throwing to. Their 2012 first-round pick Mike Zunino was been nothing short of jaw-dropping in his abbreviated minor league season. He already reached Double-A and tore it up. Granted that was a sample size of just 51 at-bats at the level, but the message is clear that Zunino is in line to be Seattle's starting backstop and middle of the order fixture possibly as soon as Opening Day 2013.
Prospects Down: Of those aforementioned pitching prospects the one that stood out as something of a disappointment was Danny Hultzen. Before the season, he was tabbed as the kid most likely to fly through the system and make an impact on the big league level. For the first part of the season the plan seemed to be on track as he carved up Double-A with a 1.19 ERA. However when he got moved up to Triple-A, things changed drastically. Hultzen got knocked around in the PCL, which isn't the end of the world given the hitting environments, but a major red flag was raised by Hultzen issuing 43 walks in just 48.2 innings of work at Tacoma. That's a scary kind of control problem, the kind of control problem that will prevent him from getting that much anticipated big league promotion until he gets it under control.
The Future: What the future holds for the M's remains to be seen. One thing we know for sure is that it will not include Ichiro, who they finally parted ways with via a mid-season trade to the Yankees. While he was an icon is Seattle, it was probably best for both sides that they moved on to start new eras in their own existences. The real killer for Seattle is that their division is so tough right now. The Rangers and Angels are big spenders who should be contenders next season and now the Oakland A's look every bit like a force to be reckoned with as well. Even with the sad sack Astros joining the AL West next season, it is hard to envision a 2013 that involves the Mariners contending for a division crown.