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Reviewing OOTP '15, Mariners Still Break Hearts in Baseball Video Game

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Out of the Park '15 is available for pre-order and will come out later this month. Out of the Park '15 is available for pre-order and will come out later this month.

Mariner fans are a sad bunch. Through years of losing and failed expectations, they have chiseled themselves into a well-oiled disappointment machine.

Don't believe me? Look no further than our sports producer and life-long Mariner fanatic, Neil. In a recent game against the A's, his eyes rolled when reliever Hector Noesi came out of the bullpen. "Great," Neil says sarcastically, "the A's are going to win." Sure enough, two pitches later, Coco Crisp drilled a walk-off homerun off of Noesi, to which Neil added, "At least it took him two pitches instead of one to lose it."

Such is life as a Mariner fan. Don't get me wrong, there have been great moments--proud moments--in the franchise. Randy Johnson's no-hitter. Ken Griffey Jr's slide into home plate to beat the Yankees in the playoffs. The 116-win season. Ah, yes, that 2001 season. The year the Mariners proved there was life after "The Big Unit" and "The Kid." The year they won an astounding 116 games without Johnson, Griffey, and A-Rod. If there's any single season that typifies the rollercoaster ride of being a Mariner fan, it's certainly 2001.

They set the American League record for wins in a regular season (tying the 1906 Cubs for the MLB record). They led all of baseball in runs scored and fewest runs allowed. Using a formula of "Wins Above Replacement," Baseball Reference deemed the Mariners--statistically speaking--as the second-greatest MLB team of all-time, trailing only the 1939 New York Yankees.

Yet the Mariners still fell short.

They beat the Indians in the divisional playoffs, but bowed out to the Yankees in the ALCS. Supposedly one of the greatest teams ever, the Mariners didn't even make it to the World Series. And it's worth noting, the Mariners haven't reached the postseason since.

This lengthy build-up leads me to one sincere question: Did the 2001 season doom the Seattle Mariners franchise? If the M's had won the World Series that year, would we be talking about a dynasty?

Out of the Park Baseball 15 allows baseball fans to answer that question. If you've read my previous reviews of the game, you know that it's a stat-driven sports simulation that has an uncanny ability to replay seasons past in Major League Baseball, trade players and control teams, and take teams beyond the 2014 season. Simply put, if you can dream up a scenario for your favorite Major League team, OOTP15 can get you there.

I've played past iterations of the game--I'm a sadistically loyal follower, just like former MLB pitcher Curt Schilling and numerous baseball writers--and I've got to say, this is by far the cleanest version I've ever seen. For a game that prides itself on being a sports simulator and not a graphically-intensive game, OOTP15 looks darned good. The interface looks like it's stolen straight out of Microsoft's Redmond headquarters. The 3-D modeled profile pics look like you're looking at real players. Everything about this game looks, well, incredible.

But anyone who's played Out of the Park Baseball knows it's not about how the car looks, but what's under the hood. So, let's test the OOTP15 engine, and see exactly how this baby performs. Our first mission is to replay the famous/infamous 2001 season. If you look back at that season, you know the M's didn't have a lack of competition. The Oakland A's were in the peak of their "Moneyball" days with sluggers Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada, to say nothing of their famed trio of pitchers, Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, and Mark Mulder. The New York Yankees were in the midst of another dynasty run, having gone to the World Series in three straight years. And a precocious bunch of slithering Diamondbacks were putting together an unlikely championship run in Phoenix.

With the click of my mouse, I click "Simulate Until All-Star Break." I'm left flabbergasted when the M's roll into the break with a mark of 66-21. Too good to be true? Did I do the old Konami Code (Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, B, A, Start)? No... that's not it. Let's make sure this all adds up, and, according to Wikipedia, I see the Mariners were actually 58-21 after the month of June in real life. So we're actually not far off, though I'm sure Bret Boone's .385, 16 homeruns, 82 RBI at the All-Star Break are a surprise to everyone. Very well, let's carry on...

I play the rest of the 2001 regular season out. Sure enough, Seattle wins the AL West with an impressive record of 119 wins and 43 losses. I'd say there's a glitch in the game, but that's only 3 wins off of Seattle's 2001 pace. I look at the individual stats, and they're pretty realistic.

Ichiro Suzuki: .367, 73 stolen bases (.350, 56 stolen bases in real life)

Brett Boone: .353, 35 HR, 142 RBI (.331, 37 HR, 141 RBI in real life)

Edgar Martinez: .309, 24 HR, 103 RBI (.306, 23 HR, 116 RBI in real life)

Other than Aaron Sele's 23-2 record with a 2.83 ERA, everything checks out. I'm now beginning to wonder... did the 2001 Mariners actually underperform in real life? My faith in the baseball simulator is rewarded one click later, when I find that the Mariners are eliminated in the American League Divisional Playoffs by the Chicago White Sox, who go on to win the World Series. Hey, at least it wasn't against the Yankees!

Now I decide to get greedy. We know the game can accurately replay a past season. But how accurately can it predict the future? Normally, predicting the outcome of a Mariners season would be fairly simple. Just extrapolate mediocrity over the course of 162 cames. But how will OOTP handle the addition of $240 million free agent Robinson Cano to the lineup? Will one big move singlehandedly transform Seattle from basement dweller in the AL West to playoff contender?

Unfortunately, Mariner fans, the game developers were smart enough to place several key Seattle players--namely Taijuan Walker--on the disabled list to start the season. Talk about realistic. You'll be happy to know (at least in video game land) that Taijuan comes back in late April and tosses 8 innings of 2-run ball in a no-decision in his first appearance of the 2014 season. The news gets worse, though, when Michael Saunders is diagnosed with a bruised kneecap and will be out the next 6 weeks. The timing is less than ideal, with Seattle just clawing its way within one game of the first place Rangers at 13-10 on the season.

Luckily, for the micromanager in us all, you get to decide how you react to the injury. As the GM of the Mariners, you are the one placing Saunders on the Disabled List. You are the one calling up a minor leaguer from Triple-A. You are the one trading Justin Smoak for a reliever. TRADES!

That reminds me... shouldn't we, um, being doing some of that GM-type stuff right about now? I hastily pause the game with Seattle breathing down Texas's neck, placing Hisashi Iwakuma on the trading block. Since the Mariners have a glut of starting pitchers, why not trade one of them to protect Cano and finally give the M's pop in their lineup? A whopping 22 teams are interested in acquiring Iwakuma, though only a handful are actually interested in giving up anyone of value in return. Most teams are offering up promising minor league prospects, but I have no interest in a 5-year plan. We're in it to win it in 2014. Lo and behold, the Royals are willing to send us outfielder Alex Gordon for Iwakuma, straight-up. I decide to press my luck and ask Kansas City to throw in first baseman Billy Butler, an offer which is summarily rejected. After a couple rounds of negotiations, the Royals ask for the underachieving Brandon Maurer in return. I practically jump out of my seat, doing my best Daniel Bryan impression. "YES! YES!"

Aside from injuries to Cano (out 3 weeks, sprained elbow) and closer Fernando Rodney (4 months, torn triceps), the first half of the season goes swimmingly for the 2014 Mariners. We motor into the All-Star Break just 3.0 games out of first place in the West, with a pleasantly surprising record of 57-38. Perhaps even more surprising, the M's lead the AL in homeruns hit, led by Brad Miller (15) and Logan Morrison and Corey Hart (14 each).

The hits keep on coming into September, as Seattle claims a Wild Card spot with 91 victories. You fantasy baseball owners may want to pay attention to James Paxton. In the cyber universe, OOTP likes him at 18-6, with a 3.45 ERA and 197 strikeouts. Same goes for middle infielder Brad Miller and his .305 average, along with his 22 homers. Oh, and the new guy Cano? .281 average with 23 homers in 136 games. Not exactly $24 million type of numbers, but when you finish second in the AL West, who's complaining?

Onward and upward into the postseason, where the Mariners playoff run ends prematurely with a first-round knock out at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays. If it's any consolation, the Rays go on to beat the Rangers and Tigers in the AL playoffs to reach the World Series, where they lose to the LA Dodgers, 4 games to 1.

So, if we're to believe Out of the Park Baseball 15, this season should be a good one for the Mariners. And 2001 wasn't too shabby either. But be prepared for more heartbreak at the end of the season, just as any well-traveled Mariner fan should.

Now, about the video game itself. If you're a baseball nut, buy it. If you're a stat freak, buy it. There are so many different ways to play this game. If that 2001 season is in your wheelhouse, you can keep playing the game right on through current times. See how the M's would do if they traded Ichiro while he was still in his prime for a young, up-and-coming first baseman in St. Louis by the name of Albert Pujols. Maybe you end up drafting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper and turning Seattle into a full fledged dynasty. The choice is yours. But take it from a bleary-eyed fanatic who has played this game way too much already: be prepared to lose a lot of time to this game. But, hey, it sure beats watching the Mariners in real life!

Out of the Park Baseball 15 is available for purchase in April at ootpdevelopments.com. If you have any questions or want any tips about the game, follow Sam on twitter @SWXSamAdams. Just don't say he didn't warn you.

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