Newcomers mark season of transition in 2011
Pineda one of 18 rookies to provide glimpse into club's future
SEATTLE -- Without question, 2011 was a year of change for the Mariners. And change doesn't always come easily.
The Mariners played 18 rookies in manager Eric Wedge's first season in Seattle, a remarkable transition of youth led by Michael Pineda and Dustin Ackley, two cornerstones for the future.
But many of the other rookies were elevated because a core of veteran players underperformed -- position players like Milton Bradley, Jack Cust, Franklin Gutierrez, Chone Figgins and even Ichiro Suzuki failed to deliver the expected offensive production for a club whose pitching kept it in the hunt for 2 1/2 months.
Ultimately the arms couldn't overcome an offense that finished last in the American League in scoring for a third straight season, as a July swoon paved the way to an eventual 67-95 finish. That win total was a six-game improvement from 2010, but it wasn't nearly enough to satisfy Wedge as he vowed more progress would be on the way next season.
Here are the top five Mariners storylines from 2011:
5. Youth is served ... in large portions
Few teams have ever attempted as large an influx of newcomers as this year's Mariners, who used 18 rookies and finished the season with four newcomers in their six-man pitching rotation.
Not all the rookies were starry-eyed newbies. Mike Carp, 25, had played in the Majors the previous two seasons, but was still officially a rookie due to his limited at-bats and service time. Same with outfielder Casper Wells, a 26-year-old acquired from the Tigers, where he'd seen some action in 2010.
But 13 of the 18 rookies made their Major League debuts in '11 -- Dustin Ackley, Blake Beavan, Steve Delabar, Alex Liddi, Josh Lueke, Carlos Peguero, Michael Pineda, Trayvon Robinson, Chance Ruffin, Kyle Seager, Anthony Vasquez, Tom Wilhelmsen and Mike Wilson.
The other "official" rookies were Carp, Wells, Dan Cortes, Charlie Furbush and Greg Halman.
Carp and Ackley made huge impacts as midseason additions. Pineda was a strong addition to a rotation that eventually added Beavan, Furbush and Vasquez by season's end. Wilhelmsen emerged as a late-inning relief standout and Wells, Seager, Peguero, Liddi and Robinson all made cases as young position prospects with bright futures.
4. A record-setting streak in wrong direction
For two-and-a-half months, the Mariners stayed close in the American League West. They trailed Texas by just a half-game at 37-35 on June 19 after taking two-of-three from the Phillies at Safeco Field. But things started to unravel in the coming days and by July, the wheels completely came off with a franchise-record 17-game losing streak.
The Mariners were sitting at .500 on July 5 when they dropped a 2-0 decision in Oakland, followed by a four-game sweep in Anaheim. Even a three-day rest for the All-Star break didn't stop the free fall, as Seattle proceeded to get swept by the Rangers, Blue Jays and Red Sox. They ultimately lost two more in New York before finally ending the skid with a 9-2 victory behind Felix Hernandez at Yankee Stadium.
The Mariners were outscored 101-45 in a stretch that stood as the longest losing streak in the Majors since the Royals dropped 19 in a row in '05. The 17-game skid tied for 14th longest in MLB history, and only one previous team -- the '44 Brooklyn Dodgers -- had ever lost 15 or more straight after being at .500 or above at least 50 games into a season.
3. Big man makes All-Star impression
Of all the newcomers on the Mariners, none stood taller than Pineda. And not just because of his towering 6-foot-7, 260-pound presence.
The 22-year-old took the league by storm, winning AL Rookie of the Month honors in April (4-1 with a 2.01 ERA and 30 strikeouts in five starts). He wound up making the All-Star team with an 8-6 record and a 3.03 ERA, and pitched a perfect frame with two strikeouts in the Midsummer Classic in Phoenix.
Though Pineda wore down a bit in the second half and was used cautiously in the final two months to preserve his young arm, he finished 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA while leading all AL rookies in strikeouts (173), fewest walks per 9 innings (2.89) and WHIP (1.10). He also finished second in innings (171 1/3), quality starts (19) and opponent's batting average (.211).
While Seattle's entire rookie crop was impressive, Pineda established himself as the key piece going forward. If the young Dominican stays healthy, he should give the Mariners an imposing 1-2 tandem with Hernandez for many years to come.
2. Wedge sets new tone in first year
After their recent churn in managers, the Mariners hired Wedge this season, and the young skipper wasted no time setting the tone that he expects will turn things around for this rebuilding franchise.
Though just 43, Wedge brought seven years of experience as manager of the Indians, as well as the confidence that comes with knowing what needs to be done. He quickly showed a firm hand that seemed to work well with his young troops, who stayed together impressively even in the face of the 17-game losing streak and continued new arrivals.
One of Wedge's first promises was to bring stability to a coaching staff that had undergone considerable change in recent years, and he wound up bringing back his entire crew for this coming season.
The former catcher also sought to instill a toughness and attitude that will carry the club into the future. And while the first-year record didn't sit well with him, Wedge does feel that the foundation of his program has been laid, and the goal now is to translate that into better performance -- and more wins -- on the field.
1. Tragedy strikes with death of Halman
Everything that happened on the field in 2011 was overshadowed by the tragic death of young outfielder Greg Halman in the Netherlands on Nov. 21.
Halman, 24, was stabbed to death in an apartment in Rotterdam. Twenty-two-year-old Jason Halman, his younger brother, was arrested and remains in custody, with reports that he was hearing voices and was mentally confused in the days prior to the early-morning incident.
Halman played 35 games for the Mariners in midseason, batting .230 with two home runs, six RBIs and five stolen bases. He was regarded as an up-and-coming prospect, an outstanding athlete who was just establishing himself in baseball as one of the first Dutch players to make the Major Leagues.
"We're all broken-hearted," said Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik. "We're all grieving. You could sit here and say a lot of things and never say enough. None of us have words for this."
Halman was buried in Driehuis, Netherlands, on Nov. 29, with former teammates Carp, Liddi, Cortes, Matt Mangini and Adam Moore in attendance. He was laid to rest in his Mariners uniform with the No. 56 that he proudly wore in 44 big league ballgames.