Five takeaways from the Mariners' recent surge, plus a question
Over the last month, the Mariners looked like the team many of us thought they'd be prior to the season.
By notching three consecutive series wins over contending ball clubs, the Mariners finished the symbolic first half of the season on a crescendo. So, let’s talk about what we’ve seen from the team lately.
The FanGraphs splits leaderboard makes this easy to do by giving us the ability to focus on the month leading up to the All-Star break - June 10 through July 9. After reflecting on this timeframe, I was left with five takeaways and a question heading into the second half.
The rotation was stellar
So far this season, the Mariners’ rotation has lost Robbie Ray and Easton McGee to Tommy John surgery. Plus, Marco Gonzales has been sidelined since May 28. Yet, Seattle’s starters have been among the best in baseball over the last month thanks to rookie call-ups Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo filling the void created by the Ray and Gonzales injuries.
It’s not just the kids who are excelling. Every Seattle starter has posted an ERA under 3.40 since June 10: George Kirby (2.18), Woo (2.20), Miller (3.05), Luis Castillo (3.23), and Logan Gilbert (3.38). Even spot starter Tommy Milone had a 2.08 ERA in his lone 4.1 inning start.
Despite the good news story we’ve witnessed lately, there are rotation concerns to consider. Woo is likely to run out of innings soon, which means the team will need a replacement. Unfortunately, the preferred choice - Gonzales - still doesn’t have an estimated return date.
The relievers were fine
The bullpen hasn’t been as dynamic as it was over the previous two seasons. However, the team’s relievers have been good enough to support an outstanding rotation that eats innings.
As with the starting staff, injuries have taken a toll. Andrés Muñoz and Penn Murfee spent time on the IL early in the season, which hamstrung manager Scott Servais at times. Muñoz is back and doing Andrés Muñoz things. Unfortunately, Murfee returned for a brief time before going down for the season.
Pressurizing the bullpen situation a little more, the Mariners recently traded relievers Trevor Gott and Chris Flexen to the Mets. While Flexen struggled this season, Gott proved to be a valuable, albeit league-average arm. For now, the club is relying on rookies Ty Adcock and Isaiah Campbell, plus Matt Festa to pick up the slack.
The offense finally lived up to expectations
The lineup was significantly better than the first two months of the season when it was inconsistent and in the bottom 20-percent in multiple statistical categories. Recently, hitters have been reaching base more often and delivering more power. Most importantly, the Mariners plated more runs.
Among regulars, the hot hands included new, yet familiar, designated hitter Mike Ford (1.022 OPS), J.P. Crawford (.938), Eugenio Suárez (.884), and Teoscar Hernández (.846). Ford led the group with seven home runs. Crawford, Suárez, and Hernández each clobbered five homers.
Although it’d be cool if he kept it going, it’s unreasonable to expect Ford will continue his current offensive rampage. Then again, based on the current status of the roster, the 31-year-old delivering respectable numbers moving forward is more critical than it should be.
While the offense has been greatly improved lately, it’s worth noting the OPS of several key hitters fell under the MLB average (.730) over the last month: Jarred Kelenic (.565), Ty France (.625), Julio Rodríguez (.679), and Cal Raleigh (.695). This must change for the better in the second half.
The bench’s floor remained low
The success of backup catcher Tom Murphy undoubtedly contributed to the team’s recent uptick in offensive production. But beyond that, Seattle’s reserves have been unproductive all season.
Bottom line: The bench must improve at the plate over the final three months of the season. Not superstars, but better than what we’ve seen from Tommy La Stella, Cooper Hummel, Sam Haggerty, AJ Pollock, Kolten Wong, and José Caballero thus far.
The competition is scuffling
During a late-May appearance on the Wyman and Bob Show, I suggested to hosts Bob Stelton and Mike Lefko the division-leading Rangers would lose steam giving the Mariners an opportunity to make up ground. That’s exactly what happened over the last month.
Between June 10 and July 9, the Mariners had the best record in the AL West gaining four games in the standings on Texas.
Granted, we’re talking about less than 30 games and the Mariners haven’t exactly been world-beaters with a 15-12 record. It’s quite possible the Texas slowdown will be short-lived and I’ll eventually look like a fool for my bold prediction.
On the other hand, could the last month be a harbinger of a Seattle second-half surge?
Every comeback has to start somewhere.
Is the M’s recent run sustainable?
To me, the answer to this question hinges on the following factors.
To date, the Mariners have withstood injuries to the pitching staff. But any more losses could be tough to overcome without outside help.
Similarly, losing a key hitter to the IL would have a devastating effect on a lineup that’s been suboptimal for most of the season. Look no further than the Astros and Angels for examples of clubs being negatively impacted by injuries to prominent position players.
The lineup doesn’t have to be one of the best in MLB. Ranking at-or-around 12th in the league should be good enough to support a top-shelf pitching staff.
Whether incumbents improve or an influx of productive newcomers arrive, more will be needed from this group. Other than minor-league depth, a serviceable bench is the only way a club can hedge against injuries or ineffective performances.
In previous newsletters, we discussed established bats or relievers the Mariners or other clubs could possibly target in trade discussions. Considering the workload challenges facing Woo, adding another pitcher capable of starting might benefit the team’s outlook.
To be clear, the Mariners won’t be able to trade their way into contention unless the current core performs up to expectations. But assuming the team continues winning, the trade market does provide a potential opportunity to improve the lineup, bench, bullpen, or rotation.
The Mariners can’t address everything just mentioned. But the front office has previously demonstrated the willingness and ability to broker innovative deals. If the players give management a reason to improve at the deadline, I suspect we’ll see new faces joining the big-league roster by August 1.
The last month probably lifted the morale of hopeful Mariners fans, which is great. That said, the team must execute and remain focused throughout the remainder of the season. After all, there’s a lot of work to be done. Seattle enters the second half six games behind the Rangers in the AL West.
Still, what we’ve seen from the Mariners over the last month wasn’t miraculous. It’s what many of us expected to see from the club all season - strong pitching, solid defense, and an average-or-slightly better offense. Perhaps the switch has finally turned on for Seattle’s bats.
If that’s the case, the Mariners just might have another magical run in them.
My Oh My…
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