BRANDON GUSTAFSON

Mariners 3 Up, 3 Down: Red-hot Ty France and more takeaways from 7-2 homestand

Apr 24, 2022, 7:29 PM | Updated: 7:58 pm
Ty France is greeted by Adam Frazier after France's two-run homer against Texas on Thursday. (AP Ph...
Ty France is greeted by Adam Frazier after France's two-run homer against Texas on Thursday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

After a 3-4 start to the year on the road, the Mariners came home to T-Mobile Park for the first time and put on quite the show in nine games, going 7-2 during the homestand and winning all three series.

Sunday: Winker wins it in the 12th, M’s beat Royals to complete sweep

Seattle opened things up taking two of three against the Houston Astros, a perennial winner in the American League West, before winning its next series against the Texas Rangers.

The Mariners saved the best for last, though, sweeping the Kansas City Royals, which was capped off by a walkoff win in 12 innings on Sunday.

So, let’s dive into what went right and wrong for the Mariners during the homestand.

3 Up

1) Ty France for MVP

Ty France, take a bow.

France, who as we all know by now just hits, hit and then some during this homestand, especially over the final two games of the series against the Royals.

Overall in 2022, France is slashing a ludicrous .375/.459/.656 (1.116 OPS!). He cranked it up at the plate at T-Mobile Park, though, hitting .474 with an on-base percentage of .537 during the nine-game homestand with four home runs and 15 RBIs.

France was massive in each of Seattle’s final two victories over Kansas City. During Saturday’s 13-7 win, France went 5 for 6 with a home run, five RBIs and three runs scored. On Sunday, France picked up another three hits, including a first-inning, two-run home run.

France was one of baseball’s best yet most underrated hitters in 2021, slashing .291/.368/.445 with 18 home runs and 73 RBIs in 152 games. He won’t be underrated for long, however, as it looks like France is tapping into more power like he showed during his time in the minor leagues – and without losing his ability to hit to all fields.

Entering the year, it seemed like France was an under-the-radar All-Star candidate. Now, he looks like someone primed to earn some MVP votes come year’s end.

2) Mariners bats putting up numbers

A lot of what I’m about to write is thanks to France, but others have certainly been contributing, too.

After Sunday’s win, the Mariners rank among MLB’s best in many key offensive categories.

Seattle is fourth in home runs, sixth in runs, 13th in average, third in on-base percentage, ninth in slugging, fifth in OPS, first in walks, tied for 14th in strikeouts and tied for sixth in stolen bases.

Again, much of that – well, not the stolen bases part – can be attributed to France. But the homestand was kind to a few other Mariners, as well.

For instance, third baseman and good vibes aficionado Eugenio Suárez entered the homestand slashing .192/.300/.500. He’s now slashing .255/.359/.527 after picking up two home runs, four doubles and nine RBIs on the homestand while walking six times to seven strikeouts.

Another new guy, second baseman Adam Frazier, also found his stroke at home, hitting .324 at T-Mobile Park with four-extra base hits and nine runs scored.

Frazier’s double-play partner J.P. Crawford also is swinging it well, having picked up two more hits on Sunday. Crawford is slashing .352/.471/.574 for the year, and the 2020 Gold Glover tapped into some power against Kansas City, homering in each of the first two games of the series.

What makes the Mariners’ overall offensive production even more impressive and important to note isn’t just that it’s a welcome sight after the team struggled at the plate in 2021, but because some key contributors are out and others are off to slow starts.

As far as who’s out, right fielder Mitch Haniger, who slugged 39 home runs with 100 RBIs in 2021, is still on the COVID IL, as is catcher Luis Torrens, who had some big moments at the plate for Seattle last year.

Starting outfielders Jesse Winker, Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez, meanwhile, all end the homestand hitting under .200 for the season, though they each had some moments at home with Winker delivering a walkoff winner on Sunday, Kelenic hitting a laser home run off the foul pole in right field and Rodríguez chipping in with a .257 average and .333 on-base percentage at T-Mobile Park.

While the team statistics at the plate certainly stand out, the biggest thing for the Mariners is that they hit an off day Monday with a 10-6 record, which puts them in first place in the AL West and ties them for the best record in the American League with the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays.

Seattle is also plus-18 in run differential – best in the American League – after finishing at minus-51 last year.

3) Adversity overcome

The Mariners certainly saw their share of adversity during nine games at home.

Winker has had some awful luck at the plate this year when putting the ball in play, Rodríguez has been getting jobbed with bad calls at the plate, and then there’s the matter of who hasn’t been in the dugout of late.

Last weekend, Haniger was placed on the COVID IL. A few days later, Torrens joined him, and on Wednesday, ace reliever Paul Sewald was also added to the list. That trio was accompanied by two key figures for the team – manager Scott Servais and third base coach Manny Acta.

With Servais and Acta out with COVID, first base coach Kristopher Negrón, who is just 36 years old, has managed the last five games for the Mariners, helping guide Seattle to a 4-1 record.

It’s easy to point to the Mariners’ series wins over the Rangers and Royals – who now have a combined 10-19 record – being because they played inferior opponents, but both teams played Seattle close and the M’s were obviously dealing with the loss of key players and leaders. That the Mariners came out the other end like they did is certainly noteworthy.

3 Down

1) Struggles for Drew Steckenrider

Drew Steckenrider was a key part of the Mariners’ stellar 90-win season in 2021, posting a 2.00 ERA and 3.35 FIP in 62 appearances (67 2/3 innings) while picking up 14 saves.

Steckenrider started the 2022 season with five scoreless appearances in a row, though he allowed at least one baserunner in each of those outings. His two most recent outings, though, have been a little worrisome for the late-inning reliever.

During the Mariners’ 8-6 loss to the Rangers in the finale of that series on Thursday, Steckenrider recorded two quick outs but walked the third batter he faced, then allowed back-to-back RBI hits to take the loss.

Steckenrider didn’t pitch again until Sunday, which he entered with a 3-2 Mariners lead. But after recording the first out of the inning, Hunter Dozier took the right-hander deep to center field, tying the game at 3. The game ultimately went to extras and the Mariners couldn’t put the Royals away until the 12th inning.

What makes the back-to-back bad outings more worrisome is Steckenrider was a high-leverage arm for the Mariners in 2021 and figured to be one yet again in 2022. Additionally, Casey Sadler, who was stellar last year, is out for the season while Seattle is currently without veterans Sewald, Sergio Romo (10-day IL with right shoulder inflammation) and Ken Giles (10-day IL with a finger injury). That puts Steckenrider in even more of a key role, and unfortunately for him and the Mariners, he’s had trouble getting the job done.

It’d be silly to write off Steckenrider at this point after what he did a year ago, but the Mariners will certainly need him to get back on track in his next few outings. Otherwise other arms may be coming in during key moments instead of No. 16.

2) Matt Brash’s control

I wrote recently that I was impressed with rookie Matt Brash’s second career outing, which came last Sunday in a 7-2 win over the Astros.

What impressed me about the start was that Brash was clearly without his best control, and his stuff wasn’t quite as sharp or devastating as it was in his MLB debut in Chicago. The young right-hander was able to work around six walks and a hit batter against Houston, though, allowing just two hits and two runs in 5 1/3 innings thanks to an overall lack of contact and especially hard contact.

Brash again was without his best stuff and command on Saturday against the Royals, but he was only able to throw 4 1/3 innings due to a lengthy first inning and too many baserunners. Brash walked four, giving up three runs on five hits while striking out just two. Brash did allow only four hard-hit balls (95 mph or harder exit velocity), but he couldn’t work around his command issues like he did in his previous start.

The positives from Brash’s two most recent starts are that he has allowed a combined seven hard-hit balls compared to 10 in 5 1/3 innings against the White Sox in his MLB debut. But he threw 81% first-pitch strikes in Chicago and walked just one.

Brash will look to command the strike zone better during his next scheduled start, which is Friday in a series opener against the Miami Marlins.

3) Cal Raleigh’s bat

It’s hard to point to too much going poorly for the Mariners during the homestand, but catcher Cal Raleigh in four starts went 0 for 14 with four strikeouts. He did work a late walk on Sunday, but the big catcher has struggled to do much at the plate this season in eight starts, recording just two hits.

Raleigh, like many top prospects, came up through the minors hitting at every stop. Unfortunately, like many young hitters, he’s struggled to get going at the MLB level.

I singled out Raleigh here and not Rodríguez or Kelenic because each of those two had some moments during the homestand, such as Kelenic’s laser home run and outfield assist on Sunday and Rodríguez picking up a pair of doubles while hitting .257 with a .333 on-base percentage at T-Mobile Park.

What is good for Raleigh is that he’s been sound defensively behind the plate. What is good for the Mariners is that Tom Murphy is off to a great start at the plate, slashing .421/.542/.632 in seven games.

The Mariners will have an interesting situation to handle both when Torrens is activated from COVID IL and when rosters are reduced from 28 back to 26 on May 2. Will Seattle still keep all three catchers at the MLB level, or might we see two arms go down instead?

Drayer: If this is the breakout season for Logan Gilbert, he’s off to a great start

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