SEATTLE MARINERS

Mariners hope unexpected 90-win season is just the beginning

Oct 4, 2021, 2:23 PM
Mariners Mitch Haniger...
Seattle Mariners fans hold up signs reading "Believe" as Mitch Haniger comes to bat in the sixth inning Saturday. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

SEATTLE (AP) — Of all the moments in the unexpected September charge made by the Seattle Mariners, there’s one day in particular that stood out to manager Scott Servais.

Drayer: How M’s 90-win journey wildly differed from April 1 expectations

It was a must-win Wednesday night in the final week against Oakland. His lineup featured a 24-year-old catcher, a 24-year-old starting pitcher, middle infielders aged 26 and 24 and a 22-year-old center fielder.

And that doesn’t include the 27-year-old first baseman who was Seattle’s best overall hitter this year, or the 26-year-old former rookie of the year who played just 36 games due to injury.

In other words, the Mariners are young, talented and seemed to have changed the narrative about their future after an unexpected 90-win season.

“It’s a group that has really, I think, clearly defined itself on what we value and what our process looks like going forward,” Servais said. “And that’s not going to change.”

The Mariners fell short of snapping their 20-year playoff drought on the final weekend. But the year was still a successful one that established the Mariners’ core.

Servais is likely to be the AL manager of the year after Seattle entered the season with expectations of barely getting to 70 wins. Mitch Haniger should be a comeback player of the year candidate after hitting 39 home runs following nearly two full years away due to injuries.

Seattle’s pitching staff found a gem in Chris Flexen and developed one of the best bullpens in baseball.

Then there was the youth movement, whether it was center fielder Jarred Kelenic, pitcher Logan Gilbert, shortstop J.P. Crawford, second baseman Abraham Toro, catcher Cal Raleigh or first baseman Ty France, who all either got their first taste of the majors or solidified themselves as established pieces of Seattle’s future.

“I know that next season, I’m gonna be way better than I was this year,” Kelenic said. “And there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m going to outwork anybody’s expectations, and at the end of the day that’s all I can do.”

LUCKY OR GOOD?

One of the lingering questions is whether Seattle’s season was a mirage. The Mariners were outscored by 51 runs for the season and went 33-19 in one-run games, 14-7 in extra inning games. There seemed to be a reasonable amount of good fortune that helped lead to the 90 wins.

But to their credit, the Mariners were 44-34 against teams with records of .500 or better, the fifth-best mark in the AL.

VIVA LA FRANCE

One of Seattle’s biggest breakout players was France. France led the team with a .291 batting average and added 18 homers, 32 doubles and 73 RBIs. In a season where batting average seemed to be devalued, France finished 10th in the AL.

Even more impressive was his defensive improvement after taking over a first base after Evan White was injured. In 814 chances, France committed only one error.

CONTRACT QUESTIONS

Seattle seems unlikely to pick up the option on third baseman Kyle Seager, all but ending a tenure with the Mariners that started in 2011. It’s the reason the Mariners made sure Seager was honored in the ninth inning of Sunday’s loss after their playoff hopes were dashed.

Related: Kyle Seager gets emotional sendoff from sellout M’s crowd

The unknown will be whether Seattle seeks a third baseman in free agency or moves Toro to his more natural position of third and looks more for a middle infielder to pair with Crawford.

Another major question for the Mariners concerns left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who was Seattle’s lone All-Star selection but collapsed the second half of the season. Before the All-Star break, Kikuchi had a 3.48 ERA in 16 starts. After, it was 5.98 in 13 outings.

If Seattle picks up an option, it would lock Kikuchi in for four years and $66 million. If it’s declined, Kikuchi would have a player option for one year at $13 million or could elect free agency. But it seems both sides are ready for the relationship to end.

Mariners coverage from 710Sports.com

It’s not ‘Wait ’til next year’ with M’s, it’s ‘Now just wait ’til next year’
710 ESPN Seattle’s voices react on Mariners’ first 90-win season since 2003
Mitch Haniger: 2021 is ‘the most fun playing baseball I’ve had’
M’s 3B coach Manny Acta: “Special group” led by Manager of the Year Scott Servais
ESPN’s Jeff Passan: ‘This is just the beginning’ for ‘really tough’ Mariners

Seattle Mariners

Mariners Bryan Reynolds...
Brent Stecker

Morosi: Are the Mariners a potential suitor for Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds?

Could the Mariners make a big splash in trading for Pirates star OF Bryan Reynolds? MLB Network's Jon Morosi broke it down with Wyman & Bob.
14 hours ago
Mariners Julio Rodríguez Carlos Correa...
Joe Fann

Fann: Thoughts on Mariners’ offseason thus far and the great spending debate

The Mariners haven't spent big on free agents this offseason, and it may remain that way. Joe Fann shares his view on how Seattle aims to improve.
2 days ago
Mariners Scott Servais Jerry Dipoto...
SeattleSports.com Staff

Mariners’ Jerry Dipoto explains their offseason direction and expectations

On Thursday's Jerry Dipoto Show, the Mariners president of baseball operations delved into the team's payroll, approach this offseason and much more.
2 days ago
Mariners Kolten Wong...
Brent Stecker

MLB Network’s Morosi: Wong, Hernández bring something Mariners need

MLB Network reporter Jon Morosi shares his insight on new Mariners 2B Kolten Wong, including what both he and slugger Teoscar Hernández are adding to Seattle's lineup.
2 days ago
Mariners Casey Sadler...
Brent Stecker

Mariners Moves: Rule 5 Draft additions, losses; Casey Sadler returns

The Mariners added three players and lost three players in Wednesday's Rule 5 Draft. Details on that and the return of reliever Casey Sadler.
3 days ago
Mariners Mitch Haniger...
Brent Stecker

Mitch Haniger posts open letter to Mariners fans after joining Giants

For the second offseason in a row, Mitch Haniger has written something addressed to Mariners fans. The latest may be more of a tearjerker, though, because of the circumstances around it.
3 days ago
Mariners hope unexpected 90-win season is just the beginning