(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

The Seattle Mariners are in the midst of a lengthy playoff drought that has seen the franchise disappoint fans on a yearly basis, but 2016 appears to be a change that has awoken a sleeping giant from its never-ending slumber. The disappointment in the Pacific Northwest is only outweighed by the misty weather and no NBA team that calls Seattle home.

Last season was supposed to be a coming out party for the Mariners, and many analysts had them making it into the playoffs with a deep run. The team failed to live up to those expectations though, which forced the franchise to do a front office rebuild that could push Seattle back into the postseason. The offseason additions of general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais were something that many questioned because of Servais’ lack of managerial experience, but they are the reason why Seattle has had so much success in 2016 and currently sit in first place in the American League West.

What are some of the other factors that have the Mariners poised to end their postseason drought? None other than a strength from the 2014 season but a weakness last season–the pitching staff. And another is their success away from Safeco Field.

In 2014, the Mariners’ pitching staff was ranked as the second best unit in all of Major League Baseball. As a unit, they posted an 87-75 record with a collective 3.17 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, while also compiling a 8.16 K/9 ratio. The pitching staff also put together almost a 3:1 walks to strikeouts ratio, which is a damn good feat as a team.

Then came the overhyped 2015 season that many thought would put the Mariners back on the MLB map–or not. The team’s pitchers struggled and Seattle finished 12 games out of the AL West lead behind the Texas Rangers. Pitchers allowed 181 home runs after only allowing 137 in 2014, and the unit’s earned run average jumped from 3.17 to 4.16 along with a 1.17 WHIP increasing to 1.31. The unit went from being one of the best to one of the worst in baseball, and there were many questions surrounding the unit as the team entered spring training in 2016.

Alas, the Mariners are once again in the top-five for pitching staffs, and the bullpen has become a consistent and reliable reason why Seattle is leading the division by 1.5 games over the Rangers. An SB Nation article shows how effective the bullpen has been this season, and there are several new faces to thank for the success. Players like Joel Peralta (4.96 ERA), Tony Zych (14.25 K/9) and Joaquin Benoit (.083 BABIP) are a reason why the club is facing greater success this season. And Seattle also has a closer in Steve Cishek (11 saves/14 opportunities), who has been much more reliable than ex-Mariners closer Fernando Rodney and has a higher strikeout rate as well.

Adding to a successful bullpen has been the team’s success on the road. The Mariners are 15-7 on the road (8-10 at home), and just took two out of three games from the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards where the O’s are now 17-8. Seattle now heads to the hitter-friendly home of the Cincinnati Reds who are currently riding a four-game losing streak. If Seattle’s bats continue to show up like they have so far this season, the Mariners’ will have the opportunity to provide plenty of run support for a starting pitching staff that has been the weakest link in 2016.

If Felix Hernandez (3-3, 2.47 ERA) and Hisashi Iwakuma (1-4, 4.38 ERA) begin to play like they were in 2014, the AL West race could be over shortly after the All-Star break. Regardless of that happening, the Mariners will be buyers at the trade deadline and should be able to end their long-standing playoff drought.

Dustin Brown covers the Seattle Mariners for MFST, and you can follow him on Twitter @SprtsWritingMan.

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