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High expectations dashed in September

October 3, 2017

SEATTLE -- The Mariners made more roster moves and used more players than any other team in the Majors in 2017. But in the end, all that churn didn't help Seattle get where it wanted, as it missed the postseason for a 16th straight year, the longest drought in baseball.A

SEATTLE -- The Mariners made more roster moves and used more players than any other team in the Majors in 2017. But in the end, all that churn didn't help Seattle get where it wanted, as it missed the postseason for a 16th straight year, the longest drought in baseball.
A season of high expectations came to a disappointing conclusion as a late-September slump dropped Seattle out of American League Wild Card consideration in the final week after the club tried to push through a series of injuries to its starting rotation that began in Spring Training and never seemed to let up.
• Shoring up rotation a priority for 2018
"I thought we did an unbelievable job this year to kind of hang in there," manager Scott Servais said. "As water was coming into the boat, we kept throwing it out, trying to keep afloat."
The Mariners learned a lot in the second season of Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto's regime. But in the end, the biggest lesson seemed to be that -- despite all the heavy lifting -- there is still work to be done.
Here are five things worth remembering from the Mariners' 2017:
1. When healthy, he was a horse
James Paxton's campaign might have epitomized the Mariners' season as much as anything. When he was healthy and running on all cylinders, the 28-year-old southpaw was as good as any pitcher in the game. The big Canadian was outstanding in April before getting sidetracked by a left forearm strain. When Paxton came back, he won the AL Pitcher of the Month Award in July while becoming the first Mariner pitcher to win six games in a month with a 6-0 record and a 1.37 ERA. But just as Paxton began pushing his way into AL Cy Young Award conversations, he went down again with a strained left pectoral muscle that sidelined him until mid-September and took considerable wind out of Seattle's sails.

2. Athletes aplenty in outfield
One of Dipoto's big goals was to get younger and more athletic in the outfield, and that certainly happened when Mitch Haniger, Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia all stepped up with strong rookie campaigns. Seattle became just the third MLB team since 1913 with three rookie outfielders playing 80-plus games. Gamel didn't break through until Haniger strained his right oblique muscle in late April, but he played so well in Haniger's absence that both players wound up in the lineup once Haniger returned. Heredia split time initially, but he, too, became an everyday player when Jarrod Dyson went down with a sports hernia in August. Along with Dyson, that trio helped turn Seattle's outfield into one of the better defensive groups in MLB, a huge turnaround from the previous few years.

3. Cruz keeps clubbing
When it comes to hitting home runs, nobody in the Majors has done it better -- or more often -- than Nelson Cruz over the past four seasons. Cruz became just the fourth player in MLB history to hit 35-plus home runs in four straight seasons after age 33 as the big designated hitter again led Seattle in big flies as well as leading the AL in RBIs. And when he hits 'em, the man called Boomstick indeed hits 'em far. His 482-foot blast on Aug. 18 was one of the longest in baseball this season, and the longest hit at Tropicana Field since Statcast™ was introduced in 2015. His average exit velocity again ranked among the top hitters in MLB as well.

4. The new kid can play
The biggest newcomer to Seattle's attack was shortstop Jean Segura, and he didn't disappoint. After being acquired in a five-player trade with the D-backs that also brought Haniger in exchange for Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte, Segura led the Mariners in batting average and was second to Dyson in stolen bases while solidifying the leadoff position. Segura can play some defense as well. His trio of outstanding plays in the bottom of the ninth inning in a July 18 game at Houston to preserve a tie game and set up 10th-inning game-winning homers by Kyle Seager and Danny Valencia will be remembered by many as the highlight of one of Seattle's most memorable wins. The Mariners liked Segura so much they gave him a five-year, $70 million contract extension in June.

5. The numbers added up … and up
No team sets out to equal the record for most pitchers used by a Major League team in a season, but the rotation injuries and a revolving door of relievers led Seattle to employ 40 hurlers over the course of 2017, tying a record set by the Rangers in '14. The tone was set when new starter Drew Smyly went on the disabled list even before the start of the regular season with an elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery. Subsequent injuries to Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Paxton left the Mariners without their expected rotation for most of the year. The Mariners used a club-record-tying 17 different starters and wound up using 61 overall players, the second-most in MLB history behind the 64 of the Rangers in '14.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.