The Royals currently lead the Seattle Mariners by two games for the Wild Card. The Royals are contending for the first time in 29 years after years of disappointment. Mariners fans haven't had to wait nearly so long for a contender, but it has been a dry spell, with 13 years passing since their last post-season appearance. Lookout Landing is one of the most popular (and consistently hilarious) baseball sites on SB Nation, so we wanted to see how they are handling this new success after four consecutive losing seasons. Contributing Editor Nathan Bishop was kind enough to share his thoughts on the Mariners over this last week of the season.
Royals Review: The Mariners currently trail the Royals and A's for a Wild Card spot. How do Mariners fans feel about their chances of overtaking one of these clubs to grab a playoff spot?
Nathan Bishop: I'd say the current mood of the fan base is one of peaking above the tree line for a fleeting glimpse of sun only to watch as it is inevitably blotted out by storm clouds. Over the last decade+ the Mariners' losing has destroyed any ability fans have to be optimistic and hope for the best. Even during 2014, their most complete and enjoyable team since 2003, fans are hesitant to leave behind the coping mechanisms of pessimism and cynicism. Back to back blowouts at the hands of the Astros this past weekend certainly didn't help fan the embers of hope.
Royals Review: Seattle has had a couple of offensive outbursts lately, but for the large part are similar to the Royals in that they struggle to score runs. What hitter or hitters is most needed to have a good week if the Mariners are to make the playoffs?
Nathan Bishop: Well for the most part Kendrys Morales has is going to bat fourth or fifth in the lineup every single night. Manager Lloyd McClendon has made it very clear that he is not going to deviate from his view of Morales as a thumping middle order bat. Morales as a Mariner has been terrible, with an OPS of .609 and his usual complete lack of contribution defensively or on the basepaths. Him hitting anything close to what his career numbers are would be absolutely huge as he gets a high number of high leverage at bats in this lineup.
Royals Review: The Mariners face the Blue Jays and Angels in the last week, two teams with winning records. But the Blue Jays are nearly eliminated from post-season play, and the Angels are expected to rest their starters the rest of the way. How much of a challenge do you see from those teams this week?
Nathan Bishop: Baseball being baseball you don't expect any easy games. The Mariners have huge issues hitting left-handed pitchers. Lloyd McClendon has shown that he will play the platoon game even if that means starting vastly inferior players. This has led to numerous high-leverage at bats in September for the "Sadness Sausage encased in human skin" known as Justin Smoak. The Toronto series sees the Mariners facing two lefties in J.A. Happ and Mark Buehrle. The Blue Jays are an above-average baseball teams. The Angels are one of the best. If the Mariners get into the postseason they have to walk through a treacherous final week.
Royals Review: Pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, who looked so brilliant early on this year, has really struggled in the month of September (9.35 ERA in four starts). Why is he struggling and how big of a concern is that for Mariners fans?
Nathan Bishop: Watching Iwakuma this month has been painful. He has labored visibly through every start. The biggest change has been a slight decrease in velocity and spike in his typically absurdly low walk rate. Prior to September the most walks Iwakuma had issued in any month was four. In September, with one start to go he already has eight.
He has struggled to put hitters away and his command is noticeably poorer. As he missed the first six weeks of the season with a finger injury, the theory that Iwakuma is suffering from end of the season fatigue seems unlikely. He could be pitching through a nagging injury or simply having a very poorly timed slump. Either way the timing really could not be worse for the Mariners second best starting pitcher.
Royals Review: Does this season, regardless of how it turns out, save Jack Zduriencik's job? How do Mariners fans feel about that?
Nathan Bishop: Regardless of the end point for the 2014 Mariners the year's improvement has already proven sufficient for ownership to award Zduriencik a multi-year extension back in August. Mariner fans will probably always be split on Jack. He was initially hailed as a savior in the wake of the disastrous Bill Bavasi Regime. However losing, historically bad offense and a series of embarrassing stories about the inner-office workings of the front office took off almost all of the shine.
Zduriencik is like almost all non-elite, non-terrible general managers in that an argument for or against him can be framed through whichever lens you care to look through. This is the front office that signed Chone Figgins, traded for Milton Bradley, traded Cliff Lee for Justin Smoak and has been through four managers since 2010. It's the front office that traded FOR Cliff Lee, picked David Aardsma off the scrap heap, signed Robinson Cano, re-signed Felix Hernandez and has them on the cusp of the playoffs. Fans opinion of Zduriencik generally is dependent largely on the team's win-loss record over the last ten games.
Royals Review: The Mariners haven't had a winning season since 2009 and haven't made the playoffs since 2001. How has this run been for Mariners fans?
Nathan Bishop: I can only speak for myself. The Mariners have always been my baseball team, going back to the mid 80s. The 2014 Mariners have reminded me of why I loved baseball in the first place. They have two hugely charismatic stars in Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano. Kyle Seager is in many ways the Mariners Alex Gordon, a vastly underrated complete player and a true star. Fernando Rodney has strung a tight rope, set it on fire and then tap danced across it all season, setting a franchise record for saves.
Lloyd McClendon, despite his flaws, is the Mariners most quotable and visibly passionate manager since Lou Piniella. The team features one of the games deepest bullpens and some of its best defense. They are the first Mariners team to truly contend for the playoffs in over ten years. They are flawed and frustrating but it's hard to overstate what a refreshing and invigorating experience is has been to care about baseball past July.
Many thanks to Nathan Bishop for his time. You can read his work at www.lookoutlanding.com.