BRANDON GUSTAFSON

How the Mariners stayed hot on the road: 3 things that stand out

Jul 1, 2021, 2:30 PM
Mariners RF Mitch Haniger...
Mariners RF Mitch Haniger had five multi-hit games during the road trip. (Getty)
(Getty)

After a mighty successful 7-2 homestand in mid-June that included a four-game sweep of the 2020 American League champion Tampa Bay Rays, the Mariners hit the road for six games against two of the brightest young teams in baseball, the Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays.

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The Mariners picked up right where they left off and showed they can hang in that class of baseball’s rising squads.

Seattle continued to play good baseball over the last week, winning both series to go 4-2 on the road trip to raise its record to 43-39. Additionally, the Mariners have won 12 of their last 16 games.

How exactly did the Mariners stay red hot? Here are three key reasons.

1. Bombs away

The Mariners entered the road trip knowing they were going against two of the most dangerous lineups in baseball. So how did they respond? By blasting the ball out of the yard.

In the six games, the Mariners hit 13 home runs, with five players hitting multiple homers. That includes both Luis Torrens and Taylor Trammell, who each had their first career multi-homer games in winning efforts in Chicago.

Jake Fraley continued to be a road warrior, hitting two more home runs away from T-Mobile Park.

Mitch Haniger (more on him later) also hit two bombs, as did Ty France.

Kyle Seager hit yet another home run off a lefty, Shed Long Jr. blasted a deep homer on Thursday and Dylan Moore hit maybe the biggest of them all, a go-ahead homer in extras on Wednesday.

The Mariners entered Thursday tied for 13th in baseball in home runs this year, and it was awfully fun to see the long ball carry the team to two series wins, especially given the offensive struggles Seattle has had at various times this season.

2. Mitch Haniger played like Mitch Haniger

A lot of different Mariners hitters were hot during their 7-2 homestand. Haniger, who was Seattle’s best hitter to start the year, wasn’t one of them.

In seven games during the homestand, Haniger had just four hits in 29 at-bats (.138 batting average).

Well, he found his swing in Chicago and Buffalo.

The Mariners played six games on the trip and Haniger had two hits in five of them. And in the one game he didn’t record multiple hits, Haniger hit one of his two homers.

Overall in the six games, Haniger went 11 for 26 (.423) with two home runs and six RBIs.

Haniger was hitting just .246 after Seattle’s homestand, but thanks to his efforts of late, his average is now up to .261.

The fact that the Mariners were as successful as they were during the homestand with Haniger scuffling was big. If they continue to play ball like they have with Haniger making key contributions, the Mariners are going to really be a team that opponents do not want to face.

3. Yusei Kikuchi continues to pitch like an All-Star

Yusei Kikuchi pitched the first and final games of the Mariners’ road trip, and, as mentioned earlier, he did so against two dangerous lineups.

Kikuchi has been of the best and hottest pitchers in baseball of late, and to say he held his own would be a bit of an understatement.

In the first game in Chicago, Kikuchi wasn’t as sharp as he has been yet still managed to throw 5 2/3 innings, allowing only two hits and one run while striking out six and walking four in a 9-3 win. That earned Kikuchi his fifth win of the year and lowered his season ERA to 3.23. Kikuchi also outdueled Carlos Rodón, who has been one of the best pitchers in baseball and appears destined for his first All-Star appearance in Colorado next weekend.

And how did Kikuchi build off that performance? Just seven innings of five-hit, one-run ball with six strikeouts in Seattle’s 7-2 win Thursday over the Blue Jays. The one run came on Marcus Semien’s leadoff home run in the first inning, and after that Kikuchi was dominant against the team with the most home runs in MLB this year.

That performance netted Kikuchi his sixth win of the year and lowered his ERA to 3.09, which ties him for 21st-best in baseball.

In Kikuchi’s last 11 starts, he boasts a 2.33 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings. His win over the Blue Jays was also the third time in his last four starts where he’s pitched seven innings.

Now, we’re all well aware of MLB’s rules regarding the All-Star Game, where each team must have at least one representative (Daniel Vogelbach, anyone?). And a few weeks ago, the debate for the Mariners was whether Haniger or shortstop J.P. Crawford – who had a great road trip himself and has stayed hot over the last month-plus – would be heading to Denver, especially since relief ace Kendall Graveman missed a month of action on the COVID-19 injured list.

Now, Kikuchi is making the case not just to be the Mariners’ All-Star but that maybe the team should have multiple representatives on the AL team.

After Thursday’s start, Kikuchi is 6-3 with the aforementioned 3.09 ERA and 93 strikeouts to 31 walks in 93 1/3 innings. The flame-throwing southpaw is certainly showing he belongs in the All-Star conversation.

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