3 Things to Watch: Mariners’ huge series against Blue Jays

Jul 7, 2022, 10:48 AM | Updated: Jan 23, 2023, 3:41 pm

Mariners Robbie Ray...

Robbie Ray throws a pitch against the Baltimore Orioles at T-Mobile Park on June 28, 2022. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

The Mariners welcome in the Blue Jays, and the full force of Canada’s crowd, to T-Mobile Park this weekend (yes, we’re counting Thursday as part of the weekend for baseball purposes).

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There a handful of pivotal things to watch for during this four-game series, the course of which could shape the second half of the season for the Mariners and lend clarity to the great question that hangs over this franchise and city: Is this the year the playoff drought ends?

Let’s look at three things to watch during the big series between two players in the American League wild card picture.

Are the Mariners for real?

During this winning surge for the Mariners (41-42), they have made up remarkable ground in chasing down a playoff spot. MLB Network’s Jon Morosi outlined the gap that the Mariners have closed in a conversation with Wyman and Bob on Thursday, and in this tweet showing how quickly the M’s have pulled to within a whisper of the Guardians (40-40) as the first team on the cusp of the wild card.

A four-game series against the Blue Jays (45-38) represents an opportunity to further close in on the team that currently holds the final wild card spot, while conversely a series loss would drop the Mariners into a steep ascent to get back to equal footing with Toronto.

This weekend also is a measuring stick against playoff-contending teams. Not to discount wins because during the long grind of a baseball season you take them where you can, but in this current five-series win streak, the Mariners faced sub-.500 teams in the Angels and Orioles and picked up six wins over the A’s, the team with the worst record in baseball and one that would simply save the gas money and forfeit losses in every road game if they were allowed to do so.

Winning games against bad teams is great, and that is exactly what you are supposed to do. But if the Mariners keep playing this way against the Blue Jays, it would have the benefit of context against one of the better teams in the American League.

It will also crystallize the trade deadline picture for Seattle. Jayson Stark of The Athletic explained on Seattle Sports why these next few weeks, beginning against the Blue Jays and culminating with a road trip to face the Astros and Yankees, will allow the Mariners to get an accurate feel for their playoff potential just before the trade deadline and make moves accordingly to help them get over the edge.

It is a lot easier to justify a short-term acquisition if you’re in the thick of the wild card race – and perhaps even in a playoff spot – than it is if you’re six or seven games back with a couple of other teams muddying the view, as well. And as also noted by Stark, the Mariners have the most favorable closing stretch of the season with their final 20 games coming against teams with losing records.

Blue Jays pitching woes

The Blue Jays’ rotation has been thrown in flux, and the uncertainty has coincided with a five-game losing streak that was just snapped Wednesday by Toronto scrapping out a 2-1 win to avoid a sweep at the hands of Oakland. The big news for the Mariners is the injury to Kevin Gausman. One of Toronto’s big offseason acquisitions (he essentially replaced Robbie Ray, who went to Seattle), Gausman injured his ankle last Saturday and had to leave the game. Manager Charlie Montoyo said Gausman won’t make his scheduled Thursday start so the Mariners avoid a key man in the Blue Jays rotation.

Toronto also doesn’t know who will start the finale on Sunday. Yusei Kikuchi is due to pitch then, but – and stop me if you have heard this before – his shaky performance has made him an unreliable option. Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith broke down the recent struggles and they are eye-popping (in a bad way). Kikuchi’s command has disappeared, and he isn’t missing bats when he does get it over the strike zone.

The revenge weekend

There is always extra juice and a little more motivation when facing your old team with the desire to prove you “won the breakup” and you’re better off now. That will be the case for reliever Ryan Borucki as he gets set to face a Blue Jays team that cut him loose at the end of May. Yes, this is clearly who you were thinking of after reading the headline to this section.

Ah, but it does appear there is another pitcher who will make his first appearance this season against his former team.

Robbie Ray didn’t pitch in the series in Toronto earlier this year (you probably remember why), but he’s scheduled to take the mound against the Blue Jays on Saturday for the first time since signing with the Mariners. While the opposing lineup certainly knows him well, those hitters haven’t seen the still relatively new two-seam fastball that Ray unveiled nearly a month ago, which has vaulted him back to the Cy Young Award form that the Blue Jays witnessed firsthand in 2021. The crowd will be wild, and the place packed on a summer Saturday night to witness, to this point, Ray’s most important start as a Mariner.

There are a myriad of things to watch for this weekend, especially with two teams full of young stars. But if we were to highlight all of them then you would still be reading this article all the way through first pitch on Thursday night. The stakes are high, the crowds will be big, and the Mariners and Blue Jays should play some compelling baseball games this weekend.

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