Nobody expected the Baltimore Orioles to make the playoffs, but they did.
Nobody expected the Oakland A's to make the playoffs, but they did.
Nobody expected the Mariners to make the playoffs.... one out of three ain't bad?
The 2012 Seattle Mariners were basically the team that a lot of us thought they were: Improved but not ready to contend. The M's won 75 games, eight more than last season and fourteen more than 2010. The rebuilding process in baseball tends to be slow unless you're the Orioles or A's apparently. (Or perhaps if Seattle was dealt a slightly different hand in another universe and wound up with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.)
One thing I find interesting is that Eric Wedge mostly stuck with his guns. The Mariners used 38 different batters compared to 47 last seasonand the fewest used since 2003. They used 18 different pitchers, also the fewest since 2003. The Mariners were a young team and they decided for the most part to let all of the young hitters work through their struggles, if they could. The average age of M's hitters was 27.1, the youngest since 1987. Another sign that perhaps hope is on the horizon.
Still, the Mariners finished in fourth place, fourteen games behind third-place Anaheim. The AL West is sending two teams to the playoffs and the heavily-favorited Rangers are actually a Wild Card. It's not going to be easy to climb out of this whole, but expecting the Mariners to make the playoffs next year would be like expecting the Orioles to make the playoffs this year.
Strange things do happen.
And many strange things did happen for the Mariners in what turned out to be a wild, eventful 2012 season even if it did fall short of the playoffs. Here is a rundown of the highlights and lowlights:
March 28, 2012 - Mariners 3, Athletics 1 (11 innings)
Seattle opened against a familiar opening opponent in an unfamiliar place... for most on the team. The Mariners played the A's to open the year, because of course they did, but this time they did it in Japan. In a season that opened at 3 AM on a Wednesday, we should have expected some weird things to transpire this year.
Ichiro, Munenori Kawasaki, and Hisashi Iwakuma were "home" but in fact the M's were the away team. The far, far away team. It was the fourth time a season had opened in Japan and the first for the most Japanese team in baseball with the only Japanese owner. Even though Hiroshi Yamauchi has never seen his team play in person, and he didn't make the trip for this one either.
It was a very successful event for the M's and for baseball, letting Ichiro play in front of his biggest fans in the world. (I would have expected a Japanese stadium to be small enough to fit into a combination KFC/Taco Bell, but apparently not.) The M's start the season 1-0 after an RBI single by Dustin Ackley in the top of the eleventh inning.
Chone Figgins started at third base, led off, and went 1-for-4. Dustin Ackley was 2-for-5 with a home run, two RBI, and a stolen base. Brandon League picked up a save. Kyle Seager sat on the bench. Ichiro hit third and was 4-for-5.
Opening day- err, morning, everybody!
April 7, 2012 - Mariners 8, A's 7
They play two in Japan and then a week later play two in Oakland. Felix Hernandez and Bartolo Colon pitch for the second time in the season in only the fourth official game. Felix picked up a nice win in the season opener. Colon shut down Seattle in the second game, which was won by the A's.
This time, Felix gives up 6 runs in 6.1 innings and Colon allows 7 in 4.1. (Colon's first three starts came against the Mariners and he went 2-1.) The Mariners win and start the season 3-1.
Figgins is hitting .412. Ackley .316. Ichiro .353. Sample sizes!
Saunders hits his first HR of the year and League picks up his second save. Steve Delabar gives up a home run.
April 9, 2012 - Mariners 5, Rangers 11
George Sherrill gives up 3 runs in 1.1 innings and I only mark this game because... GEORGE SHERRILL PITCHED FOR THE MARINERS. THIS YEAR.
April 11, 2012 - Mariners 4, Rangers 3
Down 3-1 in the top of the ninth, the Rangers bring in Joe Nathan to close it out.
Smoak single, Seager double, Montero sacrifice, Saunders double and the game is tied. With two outs, John Jaso drives in Michael Saunders to give the M's the lead. League picks up his third save and hasn't given up a run yet.
April 14, 2012 - Mariners 4, A's 0
In the bottom of the 2nd inning, Jesus Montero hits his first home run as a Mariner. A shot to deep center off of Tommy Milone and I still believe we'll see many of these in the future. Hector Noesi pitches 8 shutout innings? The A's are a playoff team?
April 17, 2012 - Mariners 8, Indians 9
Up 8-1 after four innings, Kevin Millwood implodes in the fifth inning when six straight batters reach and ultimately score on a three-run home run from Carlos Santana, proving once-and-for-all that we are the Mariners and that this was a game against Cleveland.
April 18, 2012 - Mariners 4, Indians 1
Ichiro and Figgins each hit home runs in the 1st inning what?
April 19, 2012 - Mariners 1, Indians 2
Felix gets League'd after 12 strikeouts and 1 walk in 8 shutout innings. After 126 pitches, he's taken out and League records only two outs, allowing two hits and two walks for the beginning of his end.
April 21, 2012 - Mariners 0, White Sox 4
This very season, Philip Humber was 5-5 with a 6.44 ERA. He pitched 102 innings, allowing 113 hits, 73 earned runs, 23 home runs, 44 walks and 85 strikeouts. He was one of the worst starters in the league. On September 4th, he recorded one out and allowed eight runs to score.
On April 21st, he came into Safeco Field and perfect game'd the Mariners.
Humber didn't go over 7 innings in any other start. He didn't give up 0 runs in any other start. He struck out 9 batters and only struck out that many in one other start. You know that MLB video game contest with pitching a perfect game and winning money? Philip Humber should play that. Because who knows what the hell to expect from Humber, he might for no reason at all, just perfect game you.
April 26, 2012 - Mariners 5, Tigers 4
Chone Figgins hits a go-ahead RBI double in the 7th inning and the Mariners sweep the AL Central-winning Tigers in Detroit because what does anything mean anymore?
April 27, 2012 - Mariners 9, Blue Jays 5
Down 5-3 in the top of the ninth, Michael Saunders hits a one-out home run and then John Jaso hits a 2-2 pitch to centerfield to score Kawasaki to tie the game and then Ackley is thrown out at home as the go-ahead run.
Super Saunders makes everything okay though with a grand slam in the 10th and the Mariners are over .500 with a four-game winning streak!
May 4, 2012 - Mariners 2, Twins 3
Seven straight losses.
May 5, 2012 - Mariners 7, Twins 0
The M's end the streak as Kyle Seager effectively starts to take over as the M's best hitter, for whatever that's worth. The era of Chone Figgins is beginning to finally wind down.
Seager is hitting .297/.312/.516 at this point with 4 HR.
Figgins is hitting .189/.250/.305
I mean, Seager was already the full-time third baseman as Figgins had permanently moved to left field (or center) but it's easy to forget that Seager was not the opening day third baseman. Figgins made less than 25 starts after April.
On this day, Seager hit a HR and drove in 4. Felix gave up 1 hit in 8 shutout innings with 9 strikeouts. League didn't spoil it because Delabar pitched the ninth.
May 7, 2012 - Mariners 3, Tigers 2
The M's get Fistered (this is a PG-13 site!) by Doug Fister for 7 shutout innings. Down 2-0 in the bottom of the ninth, Octavio Dotel Mom the Babysitter's Dead pitches a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 inning.
3. Wild pitch
4. Passed Ball
Duane Below closes it out though and by that I mean he gives up a sac fly to Jaso and the M's win. The M's went 5-1 against the Tigers this year.
May 17, 2012 - Mariners 5, Indians 6
A fitting way to end a really bad stretch for Seattle, the M's blow a 4-0 lead in typical Seattle-Cleveland fashion. Jose Lopez (of course) hits a 3-run home run in the eighth off of Delabar (of course) to tie the game for the Indians (of course.) The M's take a 5-4 lead in the 11th but Brandon League blows his third save of the season (of course) when he walks two of the first three batters he faces and then an RBI single to also former Mariner Asdrubal Cabrera. (OF COURSE!)
Between April 28 and May 17, the M's went 5-14 and scored 2.84 runs per game.
May 20, 2012 - Mariners 6, Rockies 4
Then the M's swept the Rockies in Colorado so thank God for interleague play. Mike Carp, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero homered in the game, just like we've been planning all along!
Seattle scored 20 runs in the three-game series.
May 23, 2012 - Mariners 5, Rangers 3
Seattle actually follows up taking two of three from Texas. The M's weren't all that bad against the Rangers, going 9-10 in the season series. This game is especially notable though because it marks the last save of League's Mariner career.
Oddly, in his last Mariners save, League pitched a 1-2-3 ninth with two strikeouts and no walks against the Rangers. It was his ninth of the season. He had an ERA of 3.72. His setup man Tom Wilhelmsen pitched in the game and gave up 3 hits and 3 runs in an inning of work with a HR allowed to Adrian Beltre. His ERA was 4.63.
Funny enough, the next two saves would go to Hisashi Iwakuma.
May 24, 2012 - Mariners 0, Angels 3
Take the good memories with the bad.
Dan Haren pitches a complete game shutout with 14 K and no walks.
May 25, 2012 - Mariners 4, Angels 6
Aaaaannnnddd that's it for League. M's blow a 4-3 lead in the ninth thanks to League.
May 30, 2012 - Mariners 21, Rangers 8
As a team, the M's were hitting .229 which was second-worst in the AL. The 21 runs were the most by any team in the majors at that point. Every hitter reached base. Smoak had two homers and a double. Seager was 4-for-6. Montero was 3-for-4 with a HR, 2B and two walks. The M's allowed eight runs, which is almost always bad, but they scored eight runs in an inning... twice.
In the same season that they got a perfect game thrown against them by Humber, they had one of their best hitting days in franchise history. And the day before they had a six-run inning and won 10-3. Baseball.
June 2, 2012 - Mariners 10, White Sox 8 (12 innings)
The M's almost always lose in Chicago in heart-breaking fashion but Jaso does it again, hitting a go-ahead double in the 12th. Iwakuma picks up a save.
June 4, 2012 - Mariners 8, Angels 6
Notable because Wilhelmsen picks up his first save going 1.2 innings with 0 hits, 0 walks, and 2 strikeouts. Since picking up his first career save, Wilhelmsen has done this: 50 innings, 1.62 ERA, 30 hits, 51 K, 20 BB, 2 HR, 29 saves, 4 blown saves.
He gave up 12 runs as a setup man and only 9 as a closer.
June 12, 2012 - Mariners 4, Padres 5
In a home game against San Diego, Felix gives up 5 runs in 6 innings with 9 hits allowed, 3 K and 3 BB. He is 4-5 with a 3.70 ERA on the year. Felix says, "I don't need any help blowing this one!" and laughs in League's face knowing that he can't squander another good start.
Felix then poo-poos on baseball.
Over his next 14 starts, Felix goes 9-0, 1.40 ERA, 109 innings, 100 K, 17 BB and 70 hits allowed. He pitches five complete games and they are all shutouts. Opponents include the Giants, Red Sox (before they esploded on the Dodgers), Orioles, A's, Rangers, Yankees (twice), Angels, and Rays.
This was how Felix not-so-quietly took the lead in the AL Cy Young race for a short while.
June 14, 2012 - Mariners 2, Padres 6
In an otherwise meaningless June 14th game between the Mariners and Padres, Franklin Gutierrez plays for the first time in 2012 and goes 1-for-2 with a walk, run, and RBI.
June 15, 2012 - Mariners 2, Giants 4
Six straight losses.
June 19, 2012 - Mariners 12, Diamondbacks 9 (10 innings)
M's led 2-0. Trailed 5-2. Led 8-5. Trailed 9-8. Tied it in the eighth at 9. Another former Mariner involved, as JJ Putz allows a leadoff walk to Smoak in the 10th and then an Ackley single.
Casper Wells and Ichiro drive in the winning runs.
This is Erasmo Ramirez's second career start and he allows 4 earned runs in 4 innings. In his previous start he allowed 5 in 5. Over his next seven starts though, Erasmo! goes 39 innings, striking out 35, walking 6 and posting a 2.31 ERA. He is 22.
June 20, 2012 - Mariners 10, Diamondbacks 14
Jason Vargas allows a career-high 10 earned runs and five home runs. Gutierrez hits his first home run since May 25th, 2011.
June 23, 2012 - Mariners 5, Padres 1
Felix gives up one run and strikes out 10 over seven innings but also drives in career runs number six and seven with a two-out double off of Jason Marquis.
June 24, 2012 - Mariners 0, Padres 2
One of the worst Mariners pitchers of recent memory, Hector Noesi gives up two runs in 6 innings against San Diego with 6 strikeouts and 3 walks. That's not a big deal. It's still not really a big deal that he also went 2-for-2 at the plate that day but it's neat.
Noesi > Figgins as a hitter. Figgins > Noesi as a pitcher?
June 25, 2012 - Mariners 0, A's 1
ERASSMOOOOO!!!! must be the new Felix. He strikes out 10, walks one and gives up a single run in 8 dominant 3-hit innings against the A's only to pick up the loss. It's crazy to think that at this point the M's and A's didn't seem that far from each other on talent and playoff chances. The A's were 36-38 after this win. They were once 26-35. Since then, Oakland is 68-33. They are managed by Bob Melvin.
It's hard not to think that if the A's could have done it, the M's could have done the same thing. Except that it was them and not us. Oakland traded away Gio Gonzalez before the year. Oakland hit .238 this year.
WHY NOT US!?!?!!? (Lots of reasons)
June 28, 2012 - Mariners 1, Red Sox 0
In a pitching duel between Felix Hernandez and "guy pitching against the Mariners," Seattle tries hard to not score any runs for Felix and its 0-0 in the bottom of the ninth. But Wells doubles with one out and then, you guessed it, John Jaso drives him in for the 1-0 walkoff win.
June 29, 2012 - Mariners 0, Red Sox 5
There are the Dan Haren's of the world but there are also the Humber's and the Aaron Cook's that seem to get quite nifty in Seattle. Cook pitches a 2-hit shutout in Safeco with no walks (if you get perfecto'd against Humber and Cook in the same year, by rule you have to give away free tickets forever) while only striking out two.
Cook has struck out 1.9 batters per nine innings this year, so for him, that was like a 12-K performance.
June 30, 2012 - Mariners 3, Red Sox 2 (11 innings)
Of all the crazy, ridiculous, unbelievable, first-time-in-franchise history things that happened this year. Can anything compare to this:
C. Figgins off of A. Aceves - Lineout: RF/Sacrifice Fly; Ackley Scores
There is your walk-off Chone Figgins lineout against the Red Sox in extra innings, folks!
June 31, 2012 - Mariners 1, Red Sox 2 (10 innings)
This seems a fitting way to end the Mariners first 81 games of the 2012 season. I did not expect that I'd bring up the entire four-game series against Boston but here we are. I guess the Red Sox could have learned something after splitting a four-game series with Seattle even though they only allowed five runs!
The Mariners blew another lead, this one in the eighth inning and it was only 1-0 when Dustin Pedroia homered off of Vargas. The Mariners once against struggled to get a hit off and this time it was off of Felix Doubront. The first five hitters went 0-for-17 while Figgins and Brendan Ryan combined for three hits on their own! They did draw seven walks, however.
In fitting fashion. League picks up the loss when he gives up a double and a single while only recording one out. Lucas Luetge allows a sac fly to David Ortiz. The M's go down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the tenth and lose again.
The M's go into the midway point on a terrible run at the plate, having scored nine runs in their last eight games. They scored nine runs in an eight game stretch after scoring 16 runs in a two-inning stretch against the Rangers earlier in the year.
This season has contained odds, ends, ups, and downs. This extra-innings loss was no different and yet at the same time, made perfect sense.
Coming up next? You guessed it! The second half, of course. That should be obvious.