When you lose 91 of 162 games in a season, there isn’t one thing that went wrong.
No, many things need to go awry to have that many losses.
To point the finger of blame at one aspect of the Seattle Mariners’ struggles this season would be foolish. Those 91 losses were a collective failure in roster construction, decision making, injuries, poor individual performance, inexperience and bad luck.
“It’s hard to narrow it down to any one thing,” third baseman Kyle Seager said.
But there are a few things that seem to stand out more than others as causes for the Mariners’ fourth consecutive losing season.
Here are two of the major factors:
While some people, including those in the team’s front office, raved about the Mariners’ outstanding spring training, thinking it was a precursor for regular-season success might have been a reach. Upon closer inspection, the Mariners’ 25-man roster was more than a little flawed.
With Raul Ibañez, Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak, the Mariners
basically had an abundance of designated hitter/first base-type players. It meant that Morse and Ibañez would have to play outfield, which wasn’t really a good thing, given their limited defensive skills.
With Ibañez in left and Morse in right field, it meant that center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, if healthy, would have even more ground to cover every day.
That was the even larger mistake — having any sort of faith that Gutierrez would stay healthy when he has given the organization no reason to think that he could.
Entering the season, he had played in 132 games over the previous two seasons.
The Mariners babied Gutierrez through spring training, hoping he could play four to five times a week once the season started. He didn’t even play four or five weeks into the season.
Gutierrez started 13 games and appeared in three others — hitting .259 with four homers and 10 RBI — before going down with a hamstring injury April 22. He would spend the next 54 games on the disabled list.
When he finally returned, he made it 11/2 games before suffering another hamstring injury. He was forced to the DL again, missing 50 more games.
In all, he played in 41 games for the Mariners, hitting .248 with 10 homers and 24 RBI. He actually played in more games (47) with Triple-A Tacoma in myriad rehab stints.
If trusting Gutierrez to stay healthy was foolish, thinking that Morse would stay healthy was just as regrettable.
In each of Morse’s previous two seasons, with the Washington Nationals, he missed significant time because of injury, and 2013 would be no different.
The slugging outfielder was acquired in a three-team trade to be a middle-of-the-order batter. He was — for about 10 games. In Those 10 games, he had 12 hits with six homers. He finished with 13 homers in 76 games before being traded to the Orioles on Aug. 30.
So what happened?
Morse was hit by a pitch and suffered a broken pinky April 11. He refused to go on the disabled list, coming back five days later. But it was too soon, and he wasn’t the same hitter.
When the finger finally healed, Morse suffered a strained quadriceps muscle running the bases May 28 against the Padres. Again, he wasn’t placed on the disabled list, but he missed eight games. With Smoak already on the disabled list because of a strained abdominal muscle, Morse tried to play through his pain. But it only made the injury worse, and he wasn’t productive. Morse finally went on the disabled list June 22 and missed 31 games.
“Morse and Gutierrez didn’t work out,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “We were really counting on them. You saw what they could do when they did play.”
With those injuries, the Mariners were left to play a hodgepodge of outfielders far more than expected, including veterans Jason Bay and Endy Chavez.
Another mistake roster-wise was handing the starting catcher position to Jesus Montero before the season.
Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik had praised the move, saying Montero was ready for the responsibility. He was not.
The 23-year-old was a disappointment from the start. He lost his starting job three weeks into the season, thanks to poor defense and even worse hitting. By May 23, he had played himself off the team.
“It just didn’t work,” Wedge said.
It wasn’t until rookie Mike Zunino was called up June 11 and given the starting job a few days later that the position had any sort of stability.
“He’s as good as any young catcher that I’ve been with,” Wedge said.
Shortstop Brendan Ryan also played his way out of a starting job, failing to hit even .200 to complement his stellar defense.
“Ryan and Montero didn’t work out, either,” Wedge said.
But Wedge couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if the original roster could have performed.
“Where we were in spring training and where we were very quickly after that, were two very different things,” Wedge said. “We were right back in rebuild mode.”
Reviewing the Mariners’ bullpen is much like many of their late-inning appearances — painful.
The unit was one of the worst in the American League. The 15 Seattle relievers posted a collective 4.58 earned-run average, second worst behind Houston at 4.92. The bullpen issued the second most walks (224), allowed the second-highest on-base plus slugging percentage (.724), gave up the third-highest batting average (.253) and blew the fourth most saves (23).
While Wedge often used the fact that his team was in so many close games in 2013 as a positive, the fact that they lost the bulk of those was an indictment of the relief pitching.
There are many reasons why the Mariners had 13 walk-off losses, lost on the opponent’s final at-bat 27 times and lost a club-record 15 extra-inning games. But the bullpen was the biggest culprit.
“Too many (losses),” Smoak said. “You have no chance of that happening as much as it happened to us this season. You never want that to happen. But to us, it seemed like it happened to us a lot last year.”
An injury to right-hander Stephen Pryor on April 14, which ultimately ended his season, was a bad omen.
Things got worse.
The Mariners opened the season with seven relievers — right-handers Carter Capps, Kameron Loe, Pryor and Tom Wilhelmsen, and left-handers Oliver Perez, Charlie Furbush and Lucas Luetge. Of that group, only Perez and Furbush pitched the entire season in the bullpen. Loe was sent packing, and Capps, Luetge and Wilhelmsen were demoted to Triple A for ineffectiveness.
The biggest failure belonged to Wilhelmsen.
After saving 29 games in 2012, Wilhelmsen looked like an All-Star in his first 17 appearances. He was almost unhittable. He saved 11 games and allowed one run in 18 innings. Opponents had just six hits in 65 plate appearances against him.
But then he imploded in a series of blown saves and late-inning failures.
It started with a blown save in Cleveland when he dropped the ball while trying to cover first base for what would have been the final out. The Mariners entered that series with a 20-21 record and were fresh off taking two of three games at Yankee Stadium. They were swept out of Cleveland, losing three of the four games in walk-off fashion. Those losses were part of an eight-game skid.
“That was it,” Wedge said. “That was as tough of a stretch as I’ve ever been a part of.”
That blown save was the first shot to Wilhelmsen’s dwindling confidence. From there, he had a collection of blown saves and shaky saves.
Finally, an awful loss at Safeco Field to the Astros in which he gave up five runs on three hits with two walks in one-third of an inning ended his run as closer.
Wedge moved Wilhelmsen to a setup role and then had to send him to Tacoma because of command issues.
By the end of the season, rookies Danny Farquhar and Yoervis Medina, two nonfactors at the start of the season, were handling the late-inning duties.
With the rotation after Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma pitching so badly early that Wedge had to overwork Furbush, Perez and even Medina, it all added up to failure.
“With the closing issues we had at midseason and the late-inning issues we had in our bullpen, it was tough,” Wedge said. “The experience they gained is going to come back to them.”Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish