ESPN’s Keith Law on what Mariners need to do to catch Rangers

Jun 22, 2016, 10:27 AM | Updated: 12:32 pm

The Texas Rangers have been the hottest team in baseball this month, while at the same time the Mariners have been mired in their most prolonged slump of the season and have fallen to just one game above .500.

As a result, an American League West Division race that the Mariners were leading less than a month ago is now led by Texas with a comfortable margin of 9.5 games entering Wednesday.

With that big of a deficit in late June, do the Mariners have much of a shot to catch the Rangers?

Drayer: Mariners know they have to grind their way out of June slump

ESPN senior baseball writer Keith Law joined “Brock and Salk” Tuesday and shed some light on the battle between Texas and Seattle, and he didn’t rule out the Mariners’ chances of making it a race again.

“I don’t think they’re as good as the Rangers right now. I think they’re within range,” Law said. “I also think that the Rangers are not quite as good as their record.”

That’s very possible. Texas has a plus-37 run differential (compared to the Mariners at plus-51), which is a little peculiar for a team that has the best record in the AL. The Rangers also own a 4.66 bullpen ERA, 27th out of all 30 MLB teams, so they’re vulnerable when their starters get chased.

That being said, it’s not like you can expect the Rangers to fall off a cliff any time soon. They’re benefiting from an influx of young players proving to be more than capable at the major-league level, with 21-year-old outfielder Nomar Mazara leading the way having entrenched himself in the middle of the order with a .291 average and 11 home runs. They’ve also seen big production out of  infielders Rougned Odor and Jurickson Profar, which prevented a recent injury to Adrian Beltre from having much of a negative impact on the team. And as if the offense needed more help, slugging prospect Joey Gallo is knocking on the door in Triple-A.

Another reason to worry about Texas: it built its division lead with three-time All-Star pitcher Yu Darvish making just three starts. And though he’s on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, he’s not expected to be out much longer.

“The problem for Seattle is the Rangers are already getting better,” Law said. “It does put a little pressure on the Mariners to try to upgrade the roster themselves just to be able to keep pace on paper and then hope to maybe get a little luckier and close some of that gap, especially when they start playing head-to-head again.”

What will make that tough for the Mariners is what Law called “one of the weakest farm systems in all of baseball, contender or not contender,” which will hamstring their ability to put together big deals before the Aug. 1 trade deadline to help the 25-man roster. The good news, though, is they have a general manager in Jerry Dipoto who has shown a knack for making smaller transactions that add up. He was doing just that Wednesday morning, bringing back Tom Wilhelmsen to help out the bullpen and making a trade to bring in starter Wade LeBlanc.

“I think what Jerry Dipoto’s really done well so far as the GM there is little deals, small patches, saying, ‘Well, I can make this one spot a little bit better,'” said Law on Tuesday. “‘If average is better than what we’ve got, then that’s an upgrade.’ I think a lot of GMs don’t spend enough time doing stuff like that.”

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ESPN’s Keith Law on what Mariners need to do to catch Rangers