For two teams that came into the 2017 season with high hopes, the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers have the shared indignity of currently residing below the Los Angeles Angels in the American League West — and both could stay there until the end of the season. How did things go so wrong, and which team had the more disappointing season?
In Seattle, this was going to be a year of grabbing a hold of every single marginal gain. Jerry Dipoto still had a whiff of that new general manager smell, and spent the offseason generating memes about his compulsive need to complete a trade every day. The Jean Segura trade was his largest deal, but even at the time it wasn’t considered enough to put the Mariners over the top. Most of his 14 deals were for depth, which makes sense for the Mariners, who have struggled recently with injury luck. But there were some questions as to whether the current roster would be good enough to break their playoff-less streak.
A lot of that depended on rebound years from Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, and neither pitcher produced at a level the Mariners needed. Couple that with the fact that, while they’ve gotten solid seasons from Segura and Nelson Cruz, no player has stepped up with a breakout season. Even the Rangers have had that with Elvis Andrus. In many ways, though, this season isn’t a huge disappointment. It’s another frustrating year for Mariners fans, but this team was never really expected to make the playoffs. If it had, the most anyone could realistically expect was a chance at the wild card game.
The Texas Rangers, on the other hand, went into 2017 expected to compete for the division crown again. They had a future Hall of Famer chasing history, two “aces” in the rotation and two incredibly exciting young players in Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara. A lack of depth in the farm system that comes from trading for pieces like Cole Hamels added to the pressure to win. For them to sit fourth in the division is quite the fall from grace — especially when their rivals, the Houston Astros, have executed their complete rebuild to near-perfection.
How did it go so wrong for Texas? Similarly to Seattle, the Rangers have had to deal with injuries and underperformance. Even before the season Texas lost a key member of its bullpen when Jake Diekman needed surgery for his ulcerative colitis. Then the Rangers lost their captain in spring training when Adrian Beltre went down with a calf injury. Those two injuries alone wouldn’t have been enough to derail the season, but no matter where the Rangers turned, they couldn’t seem to string two good things together. Their 2016 ace closer, Sam Dyson, started out 2017 well with a lights-out performance at the World Baseball Classic, but then seemed to have lost his ability to pitch under pressure and was traded to the San Francisco Giants for a player to be named later.
On top of that, the Rangers really needed top of the line performances from Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, the always frustrating Rougned Odor, as well as Mazara. While Darvish pitched well, overall (and certainly better than some credited him with), Hamels dealt with an injury that kept him out of part of the season and potentially impacted his effectiveness. Odor started in a slump that he never hit his way out of — not an ideal year for the player for whom the team alienated Ian Kinsler. Mazara quietly has had a decent season, but more was expected from a prospect of his caliber. The Texas bullpen has been a rotation selection of pitchers not quite able to consistently get outs, other than surprise star Alex Claudio — he of the 86 MPH fastball.
Such it is with high-variance teams, however. Had every other coin flip landed on heads for Texas, they might have challenged the Astros for division superiority in 2017. As it is, they’ve hung around in the wild card race despite selling. If anything, that goes to show how good they could have been. The same can’t be said for the Mariners, though, no matter how many things went right for them. Going forward, however, they might be in a better place than the Rangers if they can figure out their starting pitching situation. None of that will be much comfort, though, for two fan bases dealing with big disappointment.
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