Mariners’ bullpen, Abraham Toro play big roles to keep Seattle in playoff race

Sep 14, 2021, 2:54 PM
Mariners Abraham Toro...
Abraham Toro celebrates with teammates after a win over the Diamondbacks on Sept. 3. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

There’s less than three weeks left in the MLB regular season, and the Mariners are still in the thick of the playoff race.

Haniger homers in third straight game, Mariners beat Red Sox 5-4

Despite dropping two of three to Arizona over the weekend, the M’s bounced back Monday with a very important 5-4 win over the Boston Red Sox, one of the teams they’re chasing for a wild card berth.

The victory cut Boston’s lead over Seattle (78-66) for the American League’s second wild card to just two games, with the Yankees (80-64) tied with the Red Sox (81-65), the Blue Jays (81-63) a game ahead of them both for the first wild card, and Oakland (71-66) just a half-game back of the M’s.

On the weekly Scott Servais Show on 710 ESPN Seattle, the Mariners manager spoke Tuesday about some members of his team that deserve credit for Seattle remaining in the postseason picture: the bullpen and second baseman Abraham Toro.

Here’s a look at what Servais had to say.

Balance provided by Toro

Since arriving in Seattle in a trade with Houston in late July, Toro has established himself as one of the Mariners’ best hitters while also learning the ropes at second base, a position he had limited experience playing. He’s making steady progress on defense, but it’s the bat that really stands out. In 43 games with Seattle entering Tuesday, Toro is hitting .301 with an .848 OPS, four home runs, 10 doubles, and 17 walks to just 22 strikeouts.

That last part is the thing that really jumps out to Servais.

“His bat-to-ball skills are elite. This guy does not swing and miss very much at all,” Servais said. “He’s a really good contact guy. You know, he’s hit a few home runs for us, some critical home runs for sure, but the thing is he knows the strike zone so well, he doesn’t chase a lot, but he puts the ball in play.”

The Mariners skipper is a big fan of what Toro’s presence as a switch-hitter who is equally capable swinging from either side of the plate means for Seattle’s lineup.

“He really helps us balance our lineup a little bit more and certainly lengthens it. … It really helps that he’s a switch-hitter, that’s where the balance comes. Putting him in the lineup right in the middle, doesn’t matter where they go with their bullpen, right or left, he’s always going to be in a good spot there. It’s been a great fit for us for this year and it’s going to be an even greater fit going forward knowing that he’s still a young player.”

While the timing the trade that brought Toro to the Mariners was questioned plenty around the time of the deal, Servais said getting Toro when they did was exactly what the offense needed.

“He’s done a really nice job for us on both sides of the ball. We wouldn’t be in this spot without him. We needed a boost offensively at the trade deadline and he’s certainly given it to us.”

Mariners’ bullpen deepest it has been

The Mariners have leaned on their bullpen all season long, and it is likely to be the first thing anybody would point to for why Seattle is in playoff contention in mid-September. And yet according to Servais, the state of Seattle’s relievers may be at its best right now.

“I said it about 10 days or two weeks ago, I thought it was the deepest our bullpen had been at any point in the season,” Servais responded after being asked about Diego Castillo’s performance since returning from a short stint on the injured list early this month. “Certainly what (Paul) Sewald’s done, (Drew) Steckenrider’s been phenomenal, picking up Diego Castillo and having him back healthy, but it’s the other guys that really make a difference, as well. We talk about what Casey Sadler’s been able to do, Anthony Misiewicz, Joe Smith, (Justus) Sheffield’s chipped in, Erik Swanson’s been very sharp, we pick up a veteran like (Sean) Doolittle, and then I’m not even talking about Yohan Ramรญrez. I’ve gone eight or nine deep there in a really good bullpen, and that’s what it takes.

“You can’t just lean on the same guys every night โ€“ certainly we try to as best we can if they’re healthy or if they’re feeling fresh,” he said with a laugh, “but it really is a collective group down there that has really come together, and they’ve been the anchor of our team all year long, there’s no question about it.”

Seattle’s best reliever throughout the season has been Sewald, but he’s hit a bit of a rough patch in the last week. He allowed back-to-back solo home runs to Boston All-Stars Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers after being handed a three-run lead in the eighth inning of Monday’s win, and he has now given up four homers over his last three outings. Servais said the important thing is Sewald got through his appearance Tuesday with the lead intact and explained the challenges the right-hander is facing at this point in the season.

“We certainly have used Paul a lot. … I thought he looked really sharp last night other than the fact that he’s not quite locating the fastball as precisely as he was early on. He’s so good at getting that ball up, he has a very deceptive delivery, the hitters don’t pick the ball up on him, and then he kinda rides that fastball up at the top edge of the strike zone. He got one down to Devers last night โ€“ that’s not where you want to go against Devers, he’s a really good low-ball hitter, and so it’s more of a location thing more than anything else.

“… It happens. The guys in the other dugout, they get paid, too. There’s more information about what Paul’s doing and how he’s doing it now, so the hitters go up there with a pretty good idea. … I will say that he got his three outs at a critical point in the game, and after giving up the back-to-back home runs, you just gotta keep pitching and that’s what he did, and we end up winning the game because of it. I was glad we had the little cushion, we needed it last night, but Paul’s been great all year and we’re going to continue to lean on him down the stretch.”

The Scott Servais Show airs at 1 p.m. every Tuesday on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy during the baseball season, with Mariners insider Shannon Drayer joining hosts Jake Heaps and Stacy Rost for the interview. You can hear this week’s edition of the show at this link or in the player below.

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