As we approach the end of June, I think it's safe to say that the Seattle Mariners are probably not going to the World Series or, for that matter, the postseason.
Going into this season, a wild-card spot or even the more modest goal of sniffing at .500 seemed plausible, but with the M's 11 games under, you get the feeling that fans are ready to call it quits on the team for 2013 in a competitive sense.
Yet before we all move on to the second half of the season, I figured it might be worthwhile to take stock of the situation and see who the M's biggest winners and losers are from the first half.
The focus here is not on everyone so much as the handful of key figures who have seen the most success or, in some cases, not.
Some of the names here may not come as much of a shock, but what may surprise you is which players I thought would be considered winners versus losers going back to the beginning of the season.
Crazy to think that in a span of a few months, potential losers have become winners and vice versa. But let's keep in mind it's only been three months, and there is a lot of baseball left to play.
Raul Ibanez, in a word, is hot and, at age 41, he doesn't seem to be slowing down—as evidenced during the M's extra innings win last Sunday in which he hit two homers.
Of course, the ever focused Ibanez simply sees this as part of the job, as Jerry Brewer at The Seattle Times explained:
Ibanez doesn’t care much about the fuss. He’s just playing the game like he always has. Ask him about his power surge, and he’ll tell you that he’s doing nothing differently, that he’s simply looking for a good pitch to hit and hoping to hit it hard. He’s not so much boring as he is focused. When you consider his story, you understand why he isn’t willing to celebrate, not even as his career closes.
What I don't know is: How should we interpret his success?
For a guy that was signed this past winter to provide veteran support in the clubhouse and the occasional spot start wherever necessary, Ibanez has instead become a significant fixture in the M's lineup.
When you consider the numbers that he is posting this season, according to ESPN, it's hard to ignore Ibanez in what feels like another forgettable season in Seattle.
And yet, it all feels strange.
Naturally, I want Ibanez to succeed, but I hate to think that the M's need him so much.
What's even more surprising is that I thought I was alone in this thinking, but Jeff Sullivan at USS Mariner captured how I have been feeling for some time now with his post back in mid-June regarding Ibanez's recent run:
I just can’t stand Ibanez’s success. Increasingly, it’s more trying, and while I’m not getting angry or visibly frustrated, I don’t celebrate the Raul Ibanez home runs. I roll my eyes. It’s unhealthy, and I can’t help it and I feel like I need to explain myself because I know I’m not the only person who feels how I feel.
We’re all baseball fans, and as fans of a team, what we want is for the team to have good things happen. Extra-base hits and home runs are good things, and Ibanez has provided those. But, first, I can’t help but feel that it’s empty. What are the Mariners going to do this season? Not contend, no, that’s not in the cards. What are they playing for? Why should I care if they win or they lose? I want to believe the Mariners can be good, soon, and Raul Ibanez won’t be a part of that team. God willing. I don’t even know anymore.
What's unsettling is that none of us know anymore.
Perhaps folks like Sullivan and I should simply keep quiet and enjoy Ibanez at face value as Brewer suggests, but with so many other issues still unresolved, I find that more and more of a challenge with each passing day.
If the youngsters tasked with leading this team forward had stepped up instead, I might feel differently, but such is not the case.
Given the number of options to choose from, it's hard to pick one player that stands out as the biggest loser for the Mariners.
Depending on your point of view, you can go in a number of directions. But at this point in the 2013 season, I'd imagine the majority of fans would point at the once heralded young trio of Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero as three of the M's biggest disappointments.
Honestly, how do you choose which one has struggled the most?
Prior to the start of this week, only Smoak was in Seattle with the big club, occasionally getting at-bats depending on the collective health of Kendrys Morales and Mike Morse. Meanwhile, Ackley just came back from Tacoma after feasting on Triple-A pitching following his demotion a few weeks earlier.
That leaves us with Jesus Montero.
At a time when Montero should be thriving given the M's moved in the fences at Safeco Field, handed him the starting-catcher spot after trading away John Jaso this winter and surrounded him with veteran power hitters. Instead, he is sinking like a stone.
As of today, Montero is recuperating on the disabled list following a knee injury. But more and more he looks like someone without a future in Seattle when you consider he too was demoted to Tacoma following a slow start, replaced behind the plate with the M's first-round pick from last year, Mike Zunino, and asked to consider switching positions. All while being linked to the Biogenesis clinic in Miami by the New York Daily News.
While it's possible that Montero, at the young age of 23, can still rebound, so far the first half of this season has been a complete and total disaster.
Speaking of rebounding, this time last year, Hisashi Iwakuma was still working out of the Mariners bullpen during his first season stateside.
With a little bit of patience and a fair amount of luck, the Mariners have seen Iwakuma become one of the best starting pitchers in baseball over the past calendar year.
If you excuse his past two outings, Iwakuma has been lights out this season, according to ESPN. While I did consider him a potential breakout star at the beginning of the season, I never envisioned he would push for a spot in this year's All-Star Game.
Could he be in New York to represent the Mariners in just a few weeks?
So long as he returns to form over his next few starts, I'd consider him a safe bet along with Felix Hernandez.
Either way, what Iwakuma has done so far this season should be seen as a not too small victory by the Mariners front office.
The question moving forward is whether or not the M's will keep him or be tempted to trade him over the next few weeks.
As much as I would like for him to stay, I do believe that the team needs to keep an open mind—provided that Iwakuma is on board with such a move.
As of today, it would be tempting to label closer Tom Wilhelmsen the "losing pitcher" opposite Hisashi Iwakuma. But quite frankly, you could probably throw half the M's bullpen under the bus based on their work this season.
Whether Wilhelmsen rebounds at this point is irrelevant in my mind, because, sadly, the biggest loser this season is the same person staring at you in the mirror each morning.
Year after year we try to convince ourselves that just maybe the Mariners will figure out what they're doing only to end up with nothing more than a handful of broken promises, and a roster that continues to underwhelm.
Whether you blame manager Eric Wedge, general manager Jack Zduriencik or perhaps the trio of Chuck Armstrong, Howard Lincoln and Hiroshi Yamauchi all the way up at the top of the ladder is up to you.
Either way, no one should be happy with the status quo.
At the end of the day, I like to think of myself as a reasonable human being. So I'm not here asking for the Mariners to become perennial contenders so much as field an entertaining ballclub with players that may actually stick around beyond the next year or so.
Yet here we are, once again set adrift with Raul Ibanez leading the way?
Forgive me for once again singling out Ibanez, it's just that this is an organization that seems to spend too much time going backwards rather than forward.
Yet when it comes to discussing the future, I'm afraid I am a bit of a hypocrite, as I can't escape the past either.
I want to get excited about Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino, but I can't.
For starters, Franklin almost seems too good to be true, per ESPN. Meanwhile, Zunino looks the part, but I still feel we're all being forced to accept him whether we like it or not.
Seriously though, I like what I've seen of Franklin so far, and it scares me.
He's hitting the baseball with authority.
He comes through in clutch situations with runners on base.
He steals bases, he draws walks, he doesn't strikeout as much as I had feared and he has a little bit of pop.
He reminds me of the guy he replaced.
Dustin Ackley, at this same moment in time two years ago, had me giddy and making plans for bigger and better things down the road. Sometimes it's funny to look back, but in this case, it's just sad.
Perhaps Ackley will find his niche in Seattle at some point. But the damage has been done, and I refuse to give my heart and hopes to Nick Franklin and, by extension, Mike Zunino just yet.
As much as I like to joke, I'm not even sure I would have faith in Yasiel Puig if he were suiting up for the M's right now.
As a student of history, I like to think that the past should teach us something. Yet the more I study the Mariners, the more I want to throw away the book.
Hopefully Franklin and Zunino will some day soon help break the cycle, but until then, I'm afraid we may be forced to watch Raul Ibanez collect a check from both the Mariners and social security instead.
In summary, my fingers are crossed, but I'm not holding my breath.