Seattle's resurgent '16 ends just short of playoffs

Seattle's resurgent '16 ends just short of playoffs

SEATTLE -- A Mariners team that underwent a major overhaul under new general manager Jerry Dipoto couldn't quite close the deal in its push for the playoffs, falling just short of a Wild Card berth despite a double-digit win improvement from 2015.

But a year filled with dramatic walk-off wins, a series of hot and cold streaks and some of the best offensive production in Safeco Field history provided a feeling that this indeed was a step in a new direction for a franchise that hasn't made the postseason since 2001.

"You hear it all the time: 'It's the same old Mariners,'" first-year manager Scott Servais said after the team finished with the eighth-best record in franchise history. "We're not the same old Mariners. We're not. I think if people watched us closely this year and the personality of the team and got to see the team, they realize this is a different group.

Strong core simplifies offseason agenda

"Did we get to where we ultimately need to be? No, but we made a lot of steps in the right direction, we laid a foundation and we'll build upon that. But it is not the same old Mariners."

Record: 86-76, second place, American League West.

Defining moment: It came down to Game 161, with still a chance at landing at least a tiebreaker for a Wild Card berth, before hopes were extinguished in a roller-coaster 9-8, 10-inning loss to the A's that seemed to mirror the season itself.

The Mariners got down early, fought back behind huge home runs by Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz and provided some dramatic theatrics for a hopeful and enthusiastic Safeco Field crowd before ultimately coming up just short of their postseason goal.

Cruz's game-tying dinger

What went right: The core nucleus of Cano, Cruz and Kyle Seager was sensational, leading a Mariners offensive resurgence that saw the club finish second in the AL in home runs, third in runs and fifth in on-base percentage. Those were impressive strides forward for a team that was fifth in homers, 13th in runs and 11th in on-base percentage in 2015.

Servais did an excellent job melding a host of new players and earning the respect of a veteran-based club, while Dipoto reworked the bullpen before the season and again during the year, as well as succeeding in his goal of creating a deeper lineup and better depth across the roster.

The idea of starting catcher Mike Zunino and left-hander James Paxton in Triple-A Tacoma and letting them develop worked well, as both contributed after midseason promotions.

Dipoto also found gold after converting two hard-throwing Minor League starters -- Edwin Diaz and Dan Altavilla -- to relief roles and promoting them straight from Double-A in midseason. Diaz developed so quickly that he was the team's shutdown closer for the final two months, and Altavilla was a strong September addition.

The trade for center fielder Leonys Martin stabilized Seattle's outfield defense, and Korean rookie Dae-Ho Lee added some right-handed pop as a non-roster signee.

Re-signing Hisashi Iwakuma after his free-agent deal with the Dodgers fell through turned into a big positive, as the 35-year-old stabilized the rotation and was the lone starter to stay healthy from start to finish.

Iwakuma's terrific start

What went wrong: Injuries and poor performance led to the Mariners using 13 different starting pitchers and 19 relievers. Two of Dipoto's offseason trade acquisitions -- Wade Miley and Nathan Karns -- didn't pitch as well as hoped. Miley eventually was traded for lefty Ariel Miranda and Karns finished the year on the disabled list after losing his starting spot in midseason.

Felix Hernandez spent nearly two months on the disabled list with a calf injury -- the Mariners went 17-26 in that span -- and the club's longtime ace wasn't as consistent as normal when he did return. After a strong April, Taijuan Walker struggled as he dealt with a foot injury and didn't turn things back around until his last month.

Several key relievers -- veteran setup man Joaquin Benoit and rookie Tony Zych -- also dealt with injuries or performance issues that led to the trade of Benoit and a season-ending DL stint for Zych. Others like Charlie Furbush and Ryan Cook didn't pitch at all this year, and Evan Scribner wasn't available until the final month.

Biggest surprise: The rapid ascension of Diaz to the closer role wasn't something anyone could have foreseen, particularly given he started the year as a starter in Double-A Jackson. Once he was converted to a bullpen role, he wowed everyone in Jackson with his high-90s heat and, following his quick promotion to Seattle, the youngster put up some of the highest initial strikeout rates in baseball history and was elevated to the closer's role in August.

Hitter of the Year: Cano and Cruz have to share this honor as both were sensational, with Seager not far behind. Cano had the highest batting average on the team, set a career high in home runs and re-established himself as one of the premier second basemen in baseball and a legitimate MVP candidate. Cruz exceeded 40 homers for a third straight year and led the team in RBIs and slugging percentage.

Cano and Cruz go back-to-back

Pitcher of the Year: Iwakuma held the rotation together as the one starter who answered the bell from start to finish en route to a career-best 16 wins. On a club that went through 13 starters, Iwakuma was the one Servais could count on, and he kept the team in contention with his guile and smarts.

Rookie of the Year: While Lee was the first-half leader in this category, the big first baseman slowed in the second half, while Diaz emerged quickly to the leader of the pack shortly after his promotion. Not only was Diaz easily the top Mariners rookie, he ranked among the most impactful rookies in the AL by season's end and provides a foundation for the bullpen going forward.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.