For the Seattle Mariners, the 2012 season will result in yet another fourth-place finish in the AL West, but with some more hope for the future.
Although it seems few positives can be taken away from such a season, 2012 was in fact much more successful for the M's than most fans think, especially in comparison to last season.
No significant injuries
Luckily, Seattle made it through the whole season (almost) without losing any key players to long-term injuries. Granted, center fielder Franklin Gutierrez has played just 40 games due to nagging groin injuries, but several outfielders did a fine job in his place, namely Michael Saunders, Casper Wells, Eric Thames and Trayvon Robinson.
Reliever George Sherrill underwent Tommy John surgery after throwing just an inning and a third this season. His injury can't be called significant, as his possible contributions to the team this season and for the future are largely speculative.
Every team suffers injuries season after season, and the Mariners are lucky to still have the bulk of their team healthy in October, moving towards the offseason.
Increase in power
Home run totals for Mariners hitters are significantly better this season. With two games remaining this year, Seattle as a team has hit 146 home runs, already far better than their lower total of 109 in 2011.
Seven players have totaled ten or more long balls this season, a favorable statistic when compared to last year, when just three players ended the season with double-digit homers.
Hopefully, in the final two games of 2012 either Saunders, Kyle Seager or Justin Smoak will launch one out of Safeco. Nobody on the roster reached the 20-home-run milestone last year, and the aforementioned players all currently sit on 19. Miguel Olivo hit 19 last season.
Stellar pitching and defense
Seattle carried one of the best pitching staffs in the league last year, and they performed even better in 2012.
The M's decreased their team ERA from 3.90 to 3.77, as well as improved in several other categories: saves went up from 39 to 43 despite switching closers halfway through the season; 642 runs were allowed, 33 less than last year; strikeouts increased from 1,088 to 1,142; and opponents are hitting .247 last year compared to .251 in 2011.
The Mariners' young staff is only getting better and more experienced. Even though we didn't get to see the likes of Hultzen, Walker and Paxton this fall, look for them to sneak into the starting rotation out of spring training in '13.
Defensively, the Mariners were the best in baseball this season, committing just 69 errors, tied with the White Sox for best in the league, and a league-best .988 fielding percentage.
The theory is that pitching and defense win championships, so these numbers are highly encouraging moving forward.
Resurgence of Justin Smoak
On July 23rd against the Yankees, Justin Smoak went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, placing his season average at an abysmal .189. Smoak had hit .147 in June, and followed by going 9 for 67 in July for an average of .134.
Eric Wedge made the decision to send Smoak to triple-A, which proved to be a very wise move.
Since returning to the big leagues on August 14th, Smoak has an average of .282 with six home runs and 13 RBI, including a stellar month of September in which he hit .338.
He also stuck out just ten times in September, impressive for a guy who averages a K every four at-bats. The hope is that Smoak's strong second half is a sign of things to come, as the M's will lean on the big first baseman for years to come.
Emergence of John Jaso
As the season wore on, it became apparent that John Jaso was in fact the best catcher on the Mariners' roster.
Jaso currently leads the team in hitting with an average of .275, and he's come through in countless clutch situations throughout the year.
He's also displayed patience at the plate. Jaso is the only M's hitter with more walks than strikeouts this season, thus resulting in his team-leading OBP, slugging percentage and OPS of .393, .456 and .850, respectively.
Seattle needs to rule out Miguel Olivo from their future plans and let Jaso take over behind the plate, with Jesus Montero slotted as the DH until prospect Mike Zunino is ready for the big show.
Needless to say 2013 will be full of expectations for the Seattle Mariners. The positive trends we've witnessed from last season to this year are encouraging, but unless the club capitalizes on them, they'll be thrown out the window.