The Seattle Mariners are not in the A.L. West cellar or without hope to the same degree as the Houston Astros or Minnesota Twins and yet this 2012 season is already emitting an awful stench. Any highs have been quickly mowed down by excruciating lows while doom and gloom has blanketed much of the fan base like an unnatural fog.
With that in mind, here are a few reasons why you should still be tuning in to Mariners baseball on a regular basis.
King Felix reigns... for now
Felix Hernandez might go down as the greatest Seattle Mariners pitcher. Depending on what you look for in your ace, maybe you think he's already assumed the role. If not, he's close, and there's no shame in playing second fiddle to Randy Johnson. But despite so clearly carrying the team on his back the days he starts, Felix is continually taken for granted by most of the fan base. Felix will never stand with the Big Unit without September comebacks and postseason heroics.
Stop. Cherish him.
King Felix could lose the edge he needs to be dominant (if he hasn't started to already). He could blow out his arm tomorrow. Or he could remain perfectly healthy and sharp. Either way, 2014 is coming quicker than you think. Felix has repeatedly assured the fans that he wants to stay in Seattle, but there are any number of things that could change the way he feels.
Breathe it in. Taijuan Walker will be blessed to put up a Mariner career half as good as Felix's.
Montero's opposite field power
GM Jack Zduriencik has done his best to saturate the Mariner lineup with left-handed hitters in an attempt to avoid the Safeco Field left-center power monster that devoured Richie Sexson, Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre and countless others. But since a successful lineup can't be comprised exclusively of lefties, Zduriencik went out and found a right-hander that fits Safeco Field as well as any.
Alex Rodriguez, Bret Boone and Edgar Martinez were perhaps the greatest opposite-field power hitters I've ever seen and they all played for the Mariners shortly after the opening of Safeco. The team has been without these types of hitters since their departures, but while Jesus Montero is a work in progress, there is one thing we know he can do: deploy an inside-out swing with authority.
It's a beautiful thing. He's not Edgar. No one is Edgar. He's not A-Rod. But his swing brings me back to theirs and insists that you wake up when his name is announced.
Ichiro bids farewell?
Three players stand head and shoulders above the rest when ranking Mariners by fWAR: George Griffey, Edgar Martinez, Ichiro Suzuki. Like Felix, playing for terrible teams have caused Ichiro to be underrated and taken for granted, but he is undoubtedly in the top tier of all-time Mariners and a future Hall of Famer. His 51 deserves to join No. 42 far more than Unit's, lore be damned.
To surprisingly little fanfare, this all-time Mariner great is heading toward free agency for the first time in his career; Ichiro's 5-year contract extension he signed in 2007 runs out this fall, about the same time he turns 39. He's coming to the end of the road, and whether he signs elsewhere, retires or sticks around and continues to decline, Mariner fans are running out of chances to see one of the most exciting and compelling players in a generation.
He's not the Ichiro of 10 years ago, but if you brush away the familiarity you can still be completely awed by his approach to the game. Enjoy this one of a kind while you still can.
Saunders' rise from the ashes
The Mariners haven't had a lot of luck with their really-good-but-not-great position prospects in recent years. Guys like Jeff Clement, Jeremy Reed and Chris Snelling flopped spectacularly for various reasons while others like Carlos Guillen, Adam Jones and Shin Soo Choo weren't given a fair shake by the team's management, leaving Seattle with players that "made it" but fell short of expectations... like Jose Lopez.
Michael Saunders was the same caliber of prospect and appeared to be in the Clement-Reed-Snelling camp coming into this season. Instead, he busted his butt and accepted the need for drastic change, emerging before our eyes as a Major League Baseball player (and maybe even a really good one). He'll continue having growing pains at the plate but in spite of some very loud and obnoxious hiccups he's managing a very impressive (especially relative to his Mariner teammates) .241/.318/.494 batting line through 88 plate appearances.
If Saunders can keep this up -- or continue to improve! -- he'll make for a fantastic story. The Condor has been a joy to watch.
There are actually more than four reasons. Maybe we can break those out after another five losses.