Drayer: Mariners proved they match up well vs A’s — could Astros be next?

Jul 26, 2021, 12:54 AM | Updated: 10:37 am
Mariners Kendall Graveman...
The Mariners' bullpen has the second-best WAR in baseball since June 13. (Getty)

Checking in with some thoughts from the Mariners postgame show.

On June 21, I wrote a piece wondering if what we had witnessed the previous week was the 2021 Mariners team once and for all getting off the roller coaster and turning the corner. The thought popped into my head and promptly out of my mouth on the postgame show after the Mariners’ second of three walkoff wins in their series sweep of the Rays.

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The statement was almost immediately walked back to some extent as it did sound somewhat outrageous considering the ups and downs we had seen with the team from the start of the season. Was it too soon to call the drawing of such an important line in the Mariners’ rebuild? My eyes were telling me one thing but my head, filled with too many misadventures of Mariners teams past, was not ready to fully confirm.

As it turns out, it would appear the eyes had it.

Since June 13, the start of the week that prompted that statement, the Mariners have gone 23-11 – the second-best record in baseball in that time. Admittedly, many of the numbers don’t support a top two record. They are not out-hitting or out-pitching the league, but we have seen more consistent play with the offense continuing to take steps forward, rotation starting to stabilize a bit, and the bullpen continuing to amaze – and do so completely under the radar.

While it is impossible to quantify, we have seen this team learn how to win ballgames. We’ve seen them work pitchers, pounce on mistakes by the opposition and hang on to one-run leads regardless of who was available in the bullpen. We’ve seen in front of us a team that comes to the ballpark expecting to win, and I think over the past four days we saw a team that, judging by the reactions at times on the field, perhaps surprised the Oakland A’s.

It was a series that led to another question on the postgame show that sounded funny when said aloud. Were the Mariners more evenly matched against the A’s than most thought coming into the four games? After taking three of four from Oakland and holding the season series edge at 6-4, perhaps. You can point to lucky breaks and one-run wins all you want, but hanging with the A’s goes beyond the face-to-face meetings. The Mariners have been 2.5 to 3.5 games behind them for some time now. Oakland hasn’t exactly been able to separate because the Mariners have been winning.

The Mariners winning is taking some getting used to. On that note, another uncomfortable declaration. In this most important homestand against the American League West’s top two teams – one in which the Mariners are already 3-1 – is it possible they are more evenly matched with the Astros, as well?

Outrageous question, right? But maybe in this moment not so far fetched. The only team in baseball better than the Mariners since June 13 are the Astros, who in that time are 25-11. Then there is the matter of this tweet Sunday from Chandler Rome, Astros beat writer for the Houston Chronicle:

Again, this time with emphasis, in this moment in time.

Offense since June 23

• Mariners: .224/.305/.393, 38 HR, 98 wRC+
• Astros: .232/.316/.380, 30 HR, 98 wRC+

Starting pitchers since June 23

• Mariners: 1.2 WAR (ninth), 5.24 ERA, 4.59 FIP
• Astros: 2.8 WAR (first), 3.46 ERA, 3.64 FIP

Bullpen since June 23

• Mariners: 1.7 WAR (second), 3.70 ERA, 3.20 FIP
• Astros 0.6 WAR (seventh), 4.19 ERA, 4.20 FIP

The Astros, who hold the season series lead at 4-3, are clearly the better team, but the Mariners could be catching them at as good a time as any with Houston’s offense struggling. Of course, that offense could also turn back into the offense that averaged 8.9 runs a game in an 11-game winning streak from June 13-24. Either way, if you found what the Mariners did against the A’s this weekend to be unexpected, perhaps you should give them a little more credit heading into the series against Houston. Astros manager Dusty Baker is.

“We have to rise to the occasion,” Baker said told the media as the team headed out for its road trip against the Mariners, Giants and Dodgers. “This is something you look at the schedule and say, ‘OK, this is going to be a tough stretch here with some very good teams.’ Seattle is playing outstanding. They’re as tough in their stadium as we are in ours.”

Add that to the list. Thanks, Dusty.

Home records in 2021

• Astros at Minute Maid Park: 34-20
• Mariners at T-Mobile Park: 32-21

This would probably be a good time to bring up run differential, with the Astros checking in with an AL-best plus-144 and the Mariners at minus-52. In truth, they are not close to being evenly matched, but the Mariners are playing good baseball and could be catching the Astros at a good time. If they pick up one win in the series, it will be one more win over the Astros than any Mariners team has had since 2018. That’s a big step forward, and with 12 games remaining against Houston, expect them to add more.

For now, this most important homestand heading into the trade deadline already feels like a big win for the Mariners. We will see if they play add-on over the next three days.

Follow Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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Drayer: Mariners proved they match up well vs A’s — could Astros be next?