BRENT STECKER

Mariners’ offense coming back to life? Positive signs from 2 key hitters

May 15, 2022, 4:51 PM | Updated: 6:10 pm
Mariners Jesse Winker...
Mariners LF Jesse Winker connects on a three-run home run against the Mets on Saturday. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

The Mariners’ series win over the National League East-leading Mets was yet another strange turn in what has been a weird first 35 games to Seattle’s 2022 season.

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Yes, a team mired in a funk that had reached the two-weeks mark before the three-game set somehow stole a win from the Mets on the day of a Max Scherzer start, then narrowly avoided snatching defeat from the jaws of victory Sunday thanks to the two biggest strikeouts of the season delivered by – who else? – Diego Castillo, who has been anything but himself this season (8.74 ERA, 2.21 WHIP). That resulted in the Mets losing a series for the first time all season, and the Mariners winning one on the road for the first time in 2022.

Just like that, the Mariners have shaken off a stretch of 10 losses in 11 games with a response of four wins over their last seven. Maybe not a resounding end to a demoralizing slump, but a marked improvement at the very least.

The Mariners now take a 16-19 record (a lot better than the 14-21 some thought it might be at this point) into Canada for three games against the Blue Jays for three games where they’ll be without at least a couple players as yet unnamed players will be missing due to their unvaccinated status, starting Monday with a meeting against old friend Yusei Kikuchi. The big question the M’s will look to answer while in Toronto is whether their offense is back.

Coming off the series in New York, there are positive signs for Seattle’s offense, even if the M’s scored just six combined runs in the first two games before an eight-run game Sunday.

First up: Jesse Winker.

Other than youngsters Jarred Kelenic and Cal Raleigh, no Mariners hitter experienced quite as frustrating a start to the season as Winker. Over his first 20 games, just two of his 10 hits had gone for extra bases, and he was left with a worrying – and frankly, odd – slash line of .149/.318/.179. As one might suspect, however, things have gotten better.

In the 15 games since, Winker has a .310/.344/.483 slash line with two homers, three doubles, and seven RBIs. Shrink that down to just the last seven games and he’s at .333/.379/.481.

The Mariners acquired Winker to be the new big bat in the middle of their lineup, and he’s finally starting to look the part even if he currently is sitting at a .224 average and .649 OPS.

Also, maybe the Mariners should thank the Mets and their fans’ hilarious relationship with Winker for helping to get him going. He went 5 for 12 with a homer, a double, four RBIs, three runs scored, two walks, and a whole bunch of waves during the set in New York.

Next up: Julio Rodríguez, because boy is this kid picking up things quick.

Sunday was a big day for the 21-year-old phenom. He reached base five times, collected his first four-hit game in the big leagues, and smashed a game-tying rocket of a home run in the sixth inning (which was shortly followed by an encouraging go-ahead blast by Raleigh) that went 114 mph off the bat and 423 feet into the Citi Field seats.

After a rocky start, Rodríguez has raised his slash line to .264/.328/.368 thanks to a big showing over the past two weeks. Over his last 15 games, he’s at .333/.390/.396 with two homers, a double and a triple, and the numbers are .385/.448/.538 in his last seven games.

And about picking things up quick:

By the way, he’s still tied for the MLB lead in stolen bases with 10 and playing a surprisingly smooth center field. He seems to be arriving, and that could be huge news for the M’s.

The hope is that the Mariners’ offensive performance in late April and early May was rock bottom, and they couldn’t really afford to keep scuffling like they were if they wanted to keep their postseason hopes for this year a reality.

Yes, there’s still work to be done. Ty France and J.P. Crawford needed help carrying the lineup, and while it looks like the M’s are starting to provide it to them, it needs to start showing up in the final scores more often. The returns of Kyle Lewis and Tom Murphy, which could come during this road trip or early in Seattle’s next homestand, should be a boost.

The Mariners’ lineup looked long when they sat at 11-6 on April 26. It couldn’t have looked much shorter during the skid they hit immediately after. At least for now, Seattle is showing signs of moving back in the right direction.

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