It's shaping up to be one of the most successful seasons of Jack Zduriencik's career in Seattle.
In their first full month after an eventful trade deadline, the Mariners recovered from a sub-.500 month and went 17-10 to compete for a wild card berth. They matched a season-high winning streak of five games against the White Sox, Tigers, and Blue Jays and sustained an impressive 10-5 record at home. By the end of August, they had clinched five of nine series and finished with a 73-62 record, just half a game behind the Tigers for the second wild card.
When we last ran a poll to assess the confidence level in Jack Zduriencik and Lloyd McClendon's managerial skills, approval peaked at 77%, a little lower than the exorbitant 85% the pair received at the beginning of July. Of 1,075 votes, only 248 indicated that they had little to no faith in Seattle's management. Let's break down their performances in August:
As last month came to a close, the Mariners' organization let slip an early reward for their general manager: a multi-year contract extension. It couldn't have come at a better time for Zduriencik, who was working through the final year of his contract with the team after receiving a one-year extension last December. At the beginning of the year, it was reasonably expected that Zduriencik's tenure in Seattle would come to a close if the season went poorly, since the 63-year-old GM has not turned out a winning season since 2009.
While it would be short-sighted to assume that the owners' renewed faith in Zduriencik is solely the result of the Mariners' win-loss record this year, the potential to contend for the postseason was at the forefront of everyone's minds. It didn't hurt that Jack Z supplemented this success with several smart moves at the trade deadline, a seven-year extension for Felix Hernandez last year, and the acquisition of Robinson Cano during the 2014 offseason. He also benefited from continued improvement by Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager, as well as a consistently dominant pitching staff.
Per club tradition, no specific terms of the contract were released. Following the announcement, however, Lloyd McClendon had this to say about Zduriencik (via the Seattle Times' Ryan Divish):
"I think it's well-deserved," McClendon said. "Jack has done a tremendous job of putting this club together and making the necessary acquisitions to make us better. I just think he's done a tremendous job all around, starting with Spring Training, and getting the pieces that we needed to be competitive. Hopefully this continues to build."
When Zduriencik wasn't fine-tuning "The Plan," he was cleaning up a bit of a PR disaster -- featuring an ice cream sandwich and one Jesus Montero. Montero had a fairly intense altercation with Mariners scout Butch Baccala after repeated harassment by the scout during a Single-A Everett AquaSox game last week. When Zduriencik caught wind of the situation, he suspended the catcher without pay, clearing a spot on the 40-man roster for veteran backstop Humbero Quintero as the annual September roster expansion drew near.
"Last month, I managed for September," McClendon told the Tacoma News Tribune's Bob Dutton. "This month, I'm managing for October. I'm trying to keep the big picture in mind."
It's a comforting mantra as the Mariners vie for their first playoff shot in over a decade, but what did it look like on the field?
For one thing, McClendon didn't give his starters unnecessary off days, pushing them through a rigorous schedule that saw a nine-game road trip through the middle of the month. He matched up his best arms with other playoff contenders to give the team their best chances to vault ahead of the Tigers in the wild card standings. And he recognized when his starters needed to take a break, both to preserve their health and the team's success.
McClendon was particularly careful with Chris Young, who suffered through a rough outing in Boston at the end of the month, giving up seven hits, three runs, and walking five batters in 3 2/3 innings. Although the Mariners pulled out a 7-3 win, it was not enough to satisfy the skipper. His main concerns were with the right-hander's command issues, especially since Young doesn't have the necessary velocity to compensate for it.
Equally troubling was Erasmo Ramirez's lack of consistency this month. In his last start, he imploded during the Rangers' 12-4 win. The 24-year-old allowed nine hits, 10 runs, and a walk over three innings. McClendon returned him to Triple-A, only to call him up again and move him to the bullpen, where he will join Taijuan Walker.
Walker has faced struggles of his own, but has also made significant strides to improve his command in the minors. McClendon hopes the 22-year-old will compete for a rotation spot as the season winds down. At this point in the season, his expectations are higher than ever.
"I don't expect him [Walker] to act like a 22-year-old," McClendon was quoted in the Tacoma News Tribune. "I expect him to act like a 30-year-old. I expect him to perform like a veteran. I don't think there's anything wrong with that."
Moving forward, there's still a tough stretch ahead of this team. McClendon spoke to the press about September call-ups, emphasizing his desire to support the team with veterans and players who he feels can make a difference in a playoff push. Bringing up inexperienced players to take reps in the big leagues could jeopardize the Mariners' chances of clinching a wild card spot, especially with the added pressure that a playoff race brings.
What do you think: Does Jack Z deserve a multi-year contract based on the progress the Mariners have made this year? Is McClendon right to stick with a veteran squad as the season comes to an end?