Salk’s Mariners Observations: What they need to do, and what’s working

Jul 14, 2021, 8:04 AM | Updated: Sep 14, 2021, 10:53 am
Mariners J.P. Crawford...
J.P. Crawford has been seemingly everywhere for the Mariners in 2021. (Getty)

Announcers love to use the word “resiliency.” I notice it because I always mutter “you mean resilience” under my breath. But this isn’t a grammar article and those announcers use it too often because it’s a tremendously important trait for both athletes and teams. Heck, it’s pretty darn important for all of us in our daily lives.

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The fact is, most wins don’t come easy. Most of us experience setbacks. And no team cruises from Day 1 through the championship. They get tested, they lose, they get their backs against the wall, and their response often determines their success.

My favorite thing about the 2021 Mariners is their resilience. They’ve been doubted and exceeded expectations. They have suffered devastating injuries to expected key contributors like James Paxton and Kyle Lewis and shrugged them off. And each time it looks like they might turn into a pumpkin, they dig deep and find a way to avoid the tailspin.

It looked like the clock might strike midnight on them last week. Justus Sheffield got lit up by the Yankees and newly-minted All-Star Yusei Kikuchi was in the process of doing the same. A home sweep could have killed their momentum and sent them limping into the break as potential sellers by the end of the month. You know what happened: they salvaged the final game of the series and then took two of three from the Angels to remain right in the thick of things.

A few things stood out from that key week:

• While the Mariners lost that second game to the Yankees, two important things happened. First, Kikuchi got through the fifth inning. He didn’t pitch well. He didn’t give his team a real chance to win. But he found a way to keep the bullpen out of the game until the sixth, and that helped over the next few days. Second, they nearly came back. A 5-4 loss sure felt better than a 5-0 one. And while a loss is a loss, it sure seemed to give them some momentum heading into the next day. It showed them that they could play with that big lineup in the other dugout.

• Kikuchi is having a really nice season. He’s shown the confidence and attitude we expected when he arrived in 2019 to go with the good stuff he’s had all along. But while he has become a good major league pitcher, he isn’t a stopper or an ace just yet. I also don’t know whether he needs to be.

If the future of this team is on the shoulders of their young, first-round pitchers like Logan Gilbert, Emerson Hancock and George Kirby, and with the possibility of adding a premier pitcher through a trade or free agency, then Kikuchi may slot in very well without needing to lead the staff. But how about what we saw from Gilbert the next day? That was stopper-type stuff to go with his high-upside pedigree, and it bodes very well for the meaningful late-season and postseason starts you hope are to come.

• You can’t compete with only three serviceable starters. Period. The Mariners’ rotation need help. While Kikichi, Gilbert and Chris Flexen have been excellent, the rest of the staff is questionable at best. None of their other starters are trustworthy and there isn’t any immediate help on the way in the system.

The trade market has been dark for the past week while every front office concentrated on the draft, but I’d expect that to pick up this week. Every indication is that Seattle would like to add pitching and that it should be able to add payroll to do so. We’d like to hope Marco Gonzales returns to form, Justin Dunn gets healthy and Justus Sheffield gets on track, but hope isn’t a strategy. They need immediate help.

• J.P. Crawford is in the middle of everything. No, he wasn’t named to represent the team in Denver, but he has been the switch that has ignited them all year long. When they’ve needed a key at-bat, he has consistently delivered – and that was true at the start of the year even before he was hitting. That was never more obvious than in the comeback win over the Angels when he came up with two outs and two on, working an eight-pitch walk to bring up Mitch Haniger (and setting up the ensuing go-ahead grand slam). Crawford has been everything you’d want him to be and more.

• There is nothing not to love about the Rally Kid! The best teams build real, genuine bonds with their fans and always seem to have something fun going on. Rally Kid is a perfect example. This wasn’t forced. It wasn’t an imitation of something else. It was a natural development and exactly the kind of fun moment that teams can build on. There is no greater example of resilience than a late-game rally. And if Rally Kid is the impetus they need to keep it up, then I’m psyched to see more of him in the second half.

Follow Mike Salk on Twitter.

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Salk’s Mariners Observations: What they need to do, and what’s working