JOE FANN

Fann: With Julio out, Mariners need slumping players to step up

Aug 1, 2022, 12:36 PM
Mariners Jesse Winker...
Jesse Winker at-bat against the Oakland Athletics on July 1 at T-Mobile Park. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Vibes took a big hit over the weekend with the Mariners losing three of four to the Astros, which puts Seattle at having lost six of seven to their American League West rivals since the All-Star break.

Avoiding the worst-case scenario with Julio Rodríguez’s wrist (X-rays were negative) provided a silver lining, but the fact remains that this Mariners team still isn’t where it needs to be.

Four things to know: Mariners’ trade needs, injuries, Castillo, Kelenic

The good news is they’re still in position to make the postseason. Seattle currently owns the No. 2 wild card spot in the AL and is two games clear of Cleveland, who are fourth in the race for the three wild cards. Things will get tougher before they get easier with six games ahead against the Yankees beginning on Monday night. But even including those matchups with New York, the Mariners still have the easiest remaining strength of schedule with 59 games left to play.

Everything is very much ahead of them and within reach, but there must remain a sense of urgency from all parties.

That includes general manager/president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto, of course, who needs to continue to scour the trade market for another bat to bolster a lineup that scored an anemic two runs or less in all three losses to Houston in this most recent series.

It also includes those already on the roster. The Mariners are simply not getting enough out of guys that are expected to be daily contributors. With Rodríguez on the shelf for at least a couple of weeks and fellow All-Star Ty France also ailing with a wrist injury, the time is now for guys like Jesse Winker, Kyle Lewis and, to a lesser extent, Jarred Kelenic to produce.

Winker faces the most pressure, and deservedly so. He was the headliner of Seattle’s preseason trade with the Reds as a 2021 All-Star and heralded masher of right-handed pitching. Winker appeared to be turning it on going into the break, capping an underwhelming first half with a 19-game stretch where he hit .296 with a .383 on-base percentage. He’s come out of the gates slow in the second half with a .185 average in nine games since the All-Star break.

For the season, Winker has just a 0.3 fWAR with nine homers and a .226 average in 94 games. That’s well below the 24 homers he hit in 110 games a season ago. It has been an egregious regression from Winker, even when you factor in his transition from Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati to the less hitter-friendly T-Mobile Park in Seattle. He simply must be better. Period.

Lewis’ sample size is much smaller, appearing in nine games since being called up after the All-Star break, though his results have been even bleaker. In 24 at-bats, Lewis has just three hits (all singles) with eight strikeouts and five walks. Rodríguez’s absence puts more pressure on the 27-year-old snake bitten outfielder to turn it around.

Kelenic is the wildcard here. Summoned from Tacoma on Saturday night after Rodríguez was hit in the wrist, he jumped on an early-morning flight, arrived late to Sunday’s game and was thrown into the fire after just a few practice swings in the batting cage. He went 0 for 3 with two punchouts in what was hardly a soft landing for the embattled former top prospect.

Kelenic posted a respectable .288 average with 11 homers and 37 RBIs in 229 Triple-A plate appearances this season. However, that doesn’t mean a whole lot until he shows he can hit big league pitching consistently. He’s still just 23 with elite tools despite his .171 career MLB batting average in 476 at-bats. The Mariners couldn’t ask for a better time for Kelenic to put it together, at least moderately.

We can continue down the list: Eugenio Suárez, J.P. Crawford and others will also share the burden of Rodríguez’s absence (as well as France). Reinforcements or not, there’s simply too much talent already in the clubhouse to justify such a regularly lackluster offense.

A closer look: What the Mariners are getting in All-Star Luis Castillo

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