Drayer: In Mariners’ second half, impact to come from division and trade deadline
The Mariners finished the first half with what turned out to be a rollicking good time of a homestand. That left them with a record of 48-43, good for third place in the American League West and just 3.5 games behind the Oakland A’s, who currently hold the AL’s second wild card spot with nobody between Oakland and Seattle.
Yeah, you sign up for that heading into the season. If you have been paying attention to the process, the first half should have been a nice surprise.
The goals remain the same. This season is still about development, still about finding out what your young players are at the big league level and determining what additions need to be made in the offseason to take the final step of actually getting this team to the playoffs.
A curveball has been thrown, however, with the team for the moment in contention. In the big scheme of things, how realistic their chances are doesn’t matter because those in the clubhouse believe.
“I said it in the spring, we are coming into this thing knowing we can win,” shortstop J.P. Crawford said last week. “We all think it every day. We all trust each other. We ride for one another, we have each other’s backs. I knew from the beginning of the season with the core we had, we were going to come in here and shock a lot of people.”
Crawford pointed out that it does take time with young players but that what we had witnessed since late May was a group of players getting away from “me” baseball and now playing for the team. It’s a valuable step in the process, which has led to winning and believing. It’s a group that will have their eyes on the trade deadline as much as any veteran Mariners team in the past 20 years that believed they were a piece or two away. Reliever Paul Sewald admitted as much in his walkoff interview on 710 ESPN Seattle last Saturday, saying that playing general manager is a popular way to pass the time in the bullpen when a starter goes deep into a game.
This is the twist. While I have always believed that trading the veterans at the deadline would be a dangerous move because it could impact the development of the group by leaving them short the final two months of the season, what message do you think that would send a group that believes they are in contention?
It’s not to say you couldn’t trade a veteran, but you would have to bring in somebody who could help now. Regardless of final outcome – and let’s be clear, the postseason this year is still a long shot – this group of players deserves the chance to go for it and would benefit from it regardless of when their season ends. A team that has used an American League-high 53 players, nine of them making their MLB debuts, and managed to take steps forward in the first half could take even bigger steps with what lies ahead.
The Mariners jump right into the fire Friday night with a division game, something that should be a familiar sight with 43 of the remaining 71 games coming against AL West opponents. The Mariners have 12 games remaining against the division-leading Astros, who hold a 4-3 season series lead against Seattle. The Mariners have split six games against the A’s so far and will face them 13 more times. Perhaps an area of opportunity, the Mariners have gone 13-7 against the Angels and Rangers and have 18 games combined against those two teams in the final 2 1/2 months, starting with a three-game set in Anaheim this weekend. The division will play a prominent role in Seattle’s attempt to end its playoff drought of 19 seasons and counting.
As for where they stand heading into the second half, a roster refresher if you will.
Of the six pitchers in the starting rotation on opening day, only Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi and Chris Flexen remain on the active roster. The addition of rookie Logan Gilbert has been a plus and Justin Dunn is working his way back from injury, but even with the team going back to a five-man rotation it is clear this is the area of greatest need.
The bullpen has fared much better, with Rule 5 pick Will Vest, who was designated for assignment on Tuesday, the only reliever from opening day to be removed from the 40-man roster. While the big offseason get, Rafael Montero, has not lived up to expectations, the trio of Sewald, Drew Steckenrider and JT Chargois have proven to be valuable finds. Throw in Kendall Graveman finding a home in high-leverage situations, an improved Erik Swanson and the return of Casey Sadler from the injured list nearing, and the bullpen appears to be set for the second half. There will be juggling for the first 10 games back, though, with MLB denying Héctor Santiago’s appeal. The suspension stands and the Mariners will not be allowed to replace him on the roster while he’s out.
As for the bats, gone from the opening day roster are the two utility players, Sam Haggerty and José Marmolejos. Taylor Trammell is back at Triple-A where hopefully he can get a long stretch of everyday work. The injury losses of Kyle Lewis and Evan White are significant, with White losing valuable developmental time as he’s expected to be out for the year, and Lewis perhaps looking at a late August return. Then there are the two big prospect additions with catcher Cal Raleigh called up right before the break and Jarred Kelenic to rejoin the team in Anaheim. How they impact the season remains to be seen, but more importantly in terms of “the plan” they get going and join the core.
For those who were there Sunday before the All-Star break, a look at who was hot with the bats the final two weeks and who the break perhaps will have benefited.
Hot the last two weeks
• Mitch Haniger: .286/.386/.551, 162 wRC+
• Luis Torrens: .250/.400/.500, 148 wRC+
• Tom Murphy: .217/.333/.348, 99 wRC+
• Kyle Seager: .190/.277/.405 91 wRC+ (the .190 is ugly but the power numbers are coming up after a brutal June)
Cooling down slightly
• J.P. Crawford: .255/.345/.322, 98 wRC+ (down from 158 in June, perhaps a great time for a breather)
• Ty France: .265/.296/.367, 84 wRC+ (good to get the bone bruise four days of rest)
Tough final two weeks
• Dylan Moore: .136/.191/.273, 30 wRC+
• Shed Long Jr: .143/.211/.343, 54 wRC+
• Jake Bauers .167/.195/.154, 2 wRC+
Notes of interest from the Mariners’ midseason review
• The Mariners batted .267 as a team with runners in scoring position over the first half of the season, sixth-best average in the majors. Their .473 slugging percentage with RISP ranked fourth. The Mariners had four regulars hit at least .300 with RISP in the first half: J.P. Crawford (.375, 21 for 56), Mitch Haniger (.338, 22 for 65), Kyle Seager (.324, 24 for 74) and Ty France (.315, 23 for 73).
• The Mariners lead MLB with 104 hits in left-handed batter vs. left-handed pitcher matchups. Crawford is batting .320 against left-handed pitchers, which leads the majors among left-handed hitters with at least 100 plate appearances against lefties. Crawford’s 41 hits and nine doubles vs. LHPs are also the most in MLB.
• FanGraphs rated Crawford as MLB’s most clutch hitter in the first half of the season with a 1.89 “Clutch” metric. Seager was rated as the second-most clutch player (1.36) in the AL. The Clutch metric measures a batter’s performance in high-leverage situations.
More Mariners coverage from 710Sports.com
• Salk’s Mariners Observations: What they need to do, what’s working
• 3 Takes: Mariners’ biggest question for the second half of the season
• Mariners MLB Draft Tracker: All 20 selections made by Seattle
• M’s draft athletic high school prospect Harry Ford in first round
• Logan Gilbert describes career day against Yankees, his mindset