SEATTLE -- The first 95 games of the Lloyd McClendon era might not have reminded Seattle's new manager of the recent Detroit Tigers teams that employed him as a bench coach, but neither did they remind Pacific Northwest fans of some recent Mariners campaigns.
McClendon's Mariners topped 50 games by the All-Star break, which is something none of Seattle's previous 10 teams could do. The manager found a way to keep the team relevant well into July and put off the NFL talk in the football-mad town for a few more weeks.
It is quite a successful run for the Mariners, who might have to pull off an even less likely feat in order to sustain it.
The Mariners undoubtedly need more contributions if they are going to stick around in the American League wild-card race -- if not get back into the hunt in the AL West. Second baseman Robinson Cano, ace Felix Hernandez and the bullpen have been about as good as anyone could expect, yet even their combined success wasn't enough to push Seattle into the running for the division title.
Seattle sits eight games behind the AL West-leading Oakland A's.
The key to the second half of the season is going to come down to the bottom of the batting order and the back of the rotation, two areas where the Mariners have significant deficiencies. After Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Chris Young, Seattle has plenty of question marks in terms of starting pitching. The Mariners are also looking for much bigger things from players such as shortstop Brad Miller, left fielder Dustin Ackley, first baseman Justin Smoak and designated hitter Corey Hart over the final 67 games of the season.
In some ways, McClendon kept the team in the postseason race through smoke and mirrors. Young and veteran outfielder Endy Chavez are among the players who performed far better than anyone could have expected, and the offense was more efficient than the sum of its parts -- particularly on the road.
"I've said it time and time again: On offense, we're going to be challenged some days, and it won't look good," said McClendon, whose team went through one eight-game stretch in July when it failed to score as many as four runs in a single game. "But I'll take the whole picture, and we'll be OK. I think all in all, we're going to be OK."
The good news for the Mariners is that most of the American League has deficiencies; even Oakland was hit by the injury bug as of late.
What might be even more pressing for the Mariners over the second half of the season is for the top of the rotation to keep up its torrid pace. Hernandez is off to one of his best starts. Iwakuma could get even better as he shakes off the rust of missing spring training, while Young already won more games than anyone could have expected when the Mariners signed him out of spring training in late March.
"What a godsend for this rotation," McClendon said if Young in June. "He's just been tremendous."
Chris Young and the young Mariners exceeded expectations so far, but McClendon has his work cut out for him if Seattle is going to keep it up.
"I think this organization has come quite far," McClendon said. "I think we've accomplished a lot, but in the end, we haven't accomplished anything. But I certainly think we're headed in the right direction."