The Mariners start the second half of the season Friday night against the White Sox in Chicago. Their general manager admits the team underperformed in the first half. But the Mariners remain on the fringes of the Wild Card race.
KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel talked with 88.5’s Kirsten Kendrick about the team’s biggest challenges.
Thiel said the Mariners had too many squandered opportunities in the first half of the season.
"It's really kind of a shame because the Mariners showed glimpses of really being a substantial team," he said.
"In fact, on June 23rd they beat the Houston Astros 13-3. That put the Mariners at two games above .500 and it looked like this was the launch point for a very competitive season.
"Then they turned around and lost the next two games to the Astros, who are playing phenomenally this year. They're, I think, the Major League's best baseball team.
"Then they lost two games at home to the worst team in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies. And since then they finished the first half of the season with six wins and 12 losses."
Squandered Home Field Advantage
"That was really a blow because this was the softer part of the schedule because of many home games. Now, they play 27 of the next 44 on the road, including only seven home games in August.
"So, the schedule has become cruel at the worst time because the Mariners did not take advantage of the home field at the beginning.
"They showed in the first half that they have the potential to be a high run-scoring team, but their pitching staff just fell apart, mostly due to health."
"They knew going in that there were health questions surrounding Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton.
"Then Drew Smyly hurt himself in the World Baseball Classic and has never thrown a regular season pitch for the Mariners and won't because he just had surgery.
"The fifth starter, Yovani Gallardo, was demoted to the bullpen after poor starts. So, that was a shambles. But a lot of those guys are back now."
Glaring Problem: The Closer
"The one vulnerability in the pitching staff is not in the rotation. It's Edwin Diaz as closer," Thiel said.
"Diaz is 23 years old and, in my view, unprepared to be a Major League closer right now. Because he's got two pitches - a fast ball and a slider. And he doesn't trust his slider.
"So the scouting reports on him say, 'Wait for the fastball in the strike zone. It may be 98 or 100 miles an hour, but it's going to come in straight and you can rock it.'
"He's an easy guy to hit right now and the Mariners are going to have to figure out a solution there because that's the biggest worry for them going into the second half."
Offense Looks Good For Second Half
"I think this lineup is the most productive we've seen in the last several years," Thiel said.
"Jean Segura at shortstop is a great add to Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager, who actually does have to fire up.
"Ben Gamel, Mitch Haniger as rookies have been wonderful. And even Mike Zunino had a hot June.
"So, there's a lot of opportunity there for offense. But with Diaz being vulnerable, I don't know how they're going to work their way around that."
Trade Deadline Looming
"To talk about the elephant in the room, the trade deadline is coming up on July 31," Thiel continued.
"They need another starting pitcher. They could use a closer. But I don't think it's worth the prospects to try to trade right now for a mediocre player who's going to cost them young people that could be helpful next year for the opportunity to get into a one-game playoff that they could lose and be done.
"I think the Mariners need to stand pat with what they have. Because they've shown flashes that they are a competitive and contending team. They just have to be consistent.
"It hasn't happened yet. But they've got 72 games to prove it."