After spending two weeks in March conducting the Herald’s Best of the Mariners poll series, I decided I needed to take a break from Mariners polls last week when the season was beginning. But now some distance has been created, so let’s get to predicting the Mariners’ season.
Seattle opened its 2018 season in positive fashion over the weekend, taking two of three against the defending American League Central champion-Cleveland Indians. The Mariners did this despite losing catcher Mike Zunino to injury before a single pitch was thrown, then losing designated hitter Nelson Cruz to injury in a freak dugout-step incident.
There wasn’t a lot of optimism surrounding the Mariners before the season began. Seattle hasn’t made the postseason since 2001, meaning the Mariners have the longest active playoff drought among all American major professional sports teams. Seattle finished 78-84 last season, which was a whopping 23 games behind the AL West-champion and eventual World Series-champion Houston Astros, who are still considered baseball’s best team. The Mariners made one significant addition in the offseason in acquiring Dee Gordon to play center field, but were unable to upgrade their biggest need — starting pitching — after whiffing on their attempt to land Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani. The net result is that no one is expecting Seattle to be much of a factor this year.
The preseason statistical projection models weren’t particularly bullish on Seattle’s chances, either. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections had the Mariners with 80 wins this season, though that was good enough to finish second in the division. FanGraphs’ ZiPS/Steamer projections had Seattle with 77.8 wins, which put the Mariners in fourth in the division. That means both statistical calculations see the Mariners as a losing team this year, though not by much, and neither had Seattle as a wild-card team.
However, the early returns, though it’s a small sample size, are positive. Felix Hernandez was strong in his debut as he looks to reverse the the trend that’s seen him lose his status as one of baseball’s most-feared pitchers. Mitch Haniger appears ready to take another step forward and become a major offensive factor this season. Houston and the Los Angeles Angels each had good opening series as well, meaning Seattle is a half-game back in the standings. But the Mariners are already a game-and-a-half up on both Texas and Oakland, and staying in the vicinity of Houston and Los Angeles would be considered a good season for Seattle.
So what do you think? Where do the Mariners finish in the division this year? Make your prediction here: