Mariners Takeaways: Diving into Seattle’s impressive 7-2 homestand
The Mariners may have ended their homestand on a loss Wednesday, falling to the Colorado Rockies 5-2, but these last nine games in Seattle have been anything but a disappointment.
Overall, the Mariners went 7-2 on the homestand, including a four-game sweep of the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays.
There were plenty of heroes for Seattle – such as Shed Long Jr. with his walkoff grand slam on Father’s Day – but we’re going to look at the pitching and the Mariners’ MVP so far this season here.
Flexing at home
Chris Flexen and T-Mobile Park. Quite the duo, isn’t it?
Flexen took the mound Tuesday against the Rockies and once again put together a nice performance, tossing 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, allowing only four hits while striking out six and walking two.
That came on the heels of an even more dominant start last week against the Twins in this same homestand. Flexen tossed eight scoreless innings that time, striking out eight while allowing just four hits and not surrendering a walk.
For the 2021 season, Flexen is 6-3 with a 3.87 ERA in 13 starts. In 74 1/3 innings, he has 50 strikeouts and 14 walks and has a WHIP of 1.251.
His numbers at home are especially impressive, as he’s 4-2 with a 2.05 ERA in 48 1/3 innings in eight starts at T-Mobile Park this season.
Dominating at home. 😤
Chris Flexen owns a 2.05 ERA in 8 starts at T-Mobile Park this season. pic.twitter.com/UdMKJY6bbC
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) June 23, 2021
Flexen’s road numbers – 2-1 record with a 7.27 ERA in five starts – obviously aren’t pretty, but the high ERA is largely due to one bad outing.
“Throw out the San Diego start and his numbers look a lot better. And they’re good now, but they look a lot better without that start in there,” Mariners analyst and former Seattle third baseman Mike Blowers said on the 710 ESPN Seattle pregame show on Wednesday, a day after Flexen dominated the Rockies.
In the “San Diego start,” Flexen allowed eight runs in just 1 2/3 innings against the Padres last month. Take that start out of the equation and Flexen’s road ERA is 4.81 and his ERA on the year is 2.97.
Even with that start on the books, the Mariners’ signing of Flexen, who pitched in Korea in 2020, looks like an awful good offseason deal. He’s certainly been a surprise standout in Blowers’ eyes.
“Watching him in spring training I wasn’t really sure what they were going to get out of him, but he is improving and getting better all the time,” Blowers said. “And he’s somebody that I think that (Mariners manager) Scott Servais can really count on to get him at least six or seven every time out there.”
Flexen isn’t someone who goes out there and blows the ball by hitters, but he’s a four-pitch hurler who utilizes a fastball, cutter, changeup and curveball and throws all four a good deal in each of his starts.
Speaking of Flexen’s fastball, he typically sits 92-93 but was touching 95 and even 96 at times on Tuesday. Blowers didn’t just like the velocity that Flexen displayed, but also the intent with which the young right-hander threw the heater, which drew 10 swings and misses, per Statcast.
“I just like the attitude with which he throws his fastball. To me, he just has an attitude and a conviction about what he’s doing,” Blowers said. “When he puts a hitter away with it, he walks off that mound with an attitude and a lot of confidence. And I think that’s also something that’s been part of his growth this year and that’s why I personally feel that he’s going to just get better.”
Sheffield the odd man out
Flexen wasn’t the only member of the Mariners’ starting rotation to perform well this homestand. In fact, almost every starter put together a good performance over these nine games.
Overall, Seattle starters threw 50 innings and had an ERA of 3.78. But that number honestly could be better.
The reason it’s not is because Justus Sheffield’s struggles have continued. He allowed 10 runs in 9 1/3 innings over two starts on the homestand, amounting to a 9.64 ERA. Both of the Mariners’ losses on the homestand came in games started by Sheffield.
In the other seven games of the homestand, Mariners starters had a combined 2.43 ERA.
For Sheffield, his last two starts are a continuation of what we’ve seen from him basically all season long, which is a bit of a surprise after his 2020 showing.
In 10 starts last season, Sheffield went 4-3 with a 3.58 ERA, striking out 48 to 20 walks in 55 1/3 innings. In 13 starts this year, Sheffield is 5-7 with a 5.69 ERA and 54 strikeouts to 29 walks.
The biggest area where Sheffield has regressed? Extra-base hits, which is largely due to increased hard contact.
In his 10 starts last season, Sheffield allowed only two home runs and seven total extra-base hits. In 2021, he’s allowed 13 home runs and 30 total extra-base hits.
According to Statcast, Sheffield is in the bottom 10th percentile of MLB in average exit velocity, whiff percentage, fastball spin, expected batting average, expected slugging percentage and expected ERA.
“Sheff is just continuing to work through some things,” manager Scott Servais said after Wednesday’s loss. “And just his command, he just wasn’t quite sharp and you saw him falling behind counts and whatnot.”
Servais did commend Sheffield for being resilient in the outing and working through some tough situations, which was one of the positives that Sheffield took away from the start despite being displeased with the results as well as his mechanics, namely not staying closed with his front shoulder.
“I feel like I really didn’t let up,” Sheffield said when asked about his main positive takeaway from his start.
Sheffield pointed specifically to the fourth inning when he allowed a solo home run and had multiple runners on base. He then recorded two outs in a row to end the inning without any more damage being done. He also was pleased with his secondary offerings like his slider and changeup, which were more effective when he was ahead in the count.
“When I was ahead in the count I was able to put guys away like I wanted to, but it’s just the falling behind that killed me,” he said.
J.P. the hit machine
June has been incredibly kind to Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford, as he’s hitting .365 this month and raised his season average from .246 on May 31 to .284 after Wednesday’s game.
Crawford, who I wrote about being the Mariners’ most valuable player so far this season back on June 11, just kept hitting over the homestand. The young shortstop had at least one hit in each of Seattle’s nine games and currently boasts a 10-game hitting streak.
During the last nine games at T-Mobile Park, Crawford hit .342 (13 for 38) with two home runs, seven RBIs, three doubles and seven runs scored. One of those two home runs was also a key grand slam in a win against the Rays.
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) June 20, 2021
Crawford’s not just getting it done at the plate, either. The 2020 AL Gold Glove winner is playing exceptional defense at a key position yet again in 2021. He flashed the leather early in Wednesday’s loss.
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) June 23, 2021
Through 75 games this year, Crawford leads the Mariners in wins above replacement (WAR) with 2.3 and, per ESPN, is the third-most valuable defender in baseball this season.
We knew the glove was good after last season, but Crawford is emerging as one of the better hitting shortstops in baseball this season. With injuries piling up for Seattle and rookies/prospects like Jarred Kelenic and Taylor Trammell struggling at the MLB level, Crawford has been a great tone-setter for the Mariners’ lineup this season.