Salk: We’re still trying to figure the Mariners out — especially 2 things
The Mariners enter Tuesday with a 59-52 record, fighting to hang onto a playoff spot with only a third of the season left to go. And yet there’s a nagging feeling about the team, as Seattle Sports’ Mike Salk pointed out Monday morning.
“It’s kind of strange to be in August and still not really know who the Mariners are,” Salk said.
It’s an interesting point because while the Mariners have played 111 games, things are about as uncertain as they’ve been at any point this year. They’re getting players back from the injured list piece by piece while other bumps and bruises keep coming up, and the offense has struggled since Seattle’s 14-game winning streak going into the All-Star break in the middle of June.
Salk went through a list of things we know and don’t know to illustrate that point on his show Monday. Here’s a look at what he had to say.
What we know
• They can pitch
“They really do have a good pitching staff, and it took them a little time to get that going, especially if you go back to May. They weren’t sure entirely what they were doing, their bullpen was struggling, Diego Castillo was way down and not pitching well – they had some real problems. … The ‘pen was an entirely different creation at the beginning of this year. You fast forward and now all of the sudden, (Paul) Sewald has sort of done his thing again, (Andrés) Muñoz has turned himself into one of the best relievers in the league, (Erik) Swanson has had a completely different season than what we’ve seen in the past, (Penn) Murfee has been a revelation with his slider out of the ‘pen, and then Castillo (turned around) and Matt Festa has been ridiculous since they brought him back the second time (from Triple-A). It’s a different group from last year but it’s been just as good. You get to the end of the game and you just know they’re lockdown, and then we’ve talked ad nauseam about the starting pitching. I know they can pitch, and they’re going to almost always have a chance to win every game because of it.”
• They play fundamental baseball.
“I also know they’re not going to beat themselves too often, and that’s been true for two years. If you ask me what the biggest similarities between this year and last year are, to me it’s the ‘pen, which while having different names has been I think equally as good, and then the fact that they just don’t beat themselves. They don’t make stupid decisions, they don’t make a lot of mental errors, they play good defense, and even when they screw something up they tend not to do it again. They don’t compound their mistakes. They play pretty clean baseball. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect, they’re gonna throw the ball away now and again. … When you see (Jesse) Winker get thrown out at the plate (Sunday), you’re like, ‘Oh, well, that was strange.’ Like, that never happens, so it really stood out that a guy ran through a stop sign, and even he commented on it afterwards that ‘I should have had a better secondary lead.’ It really stood out, but he knew what he did wrong. That’s good coaching, good management, and I think that’s been a consistent thing that I know about this team.”
What we don’t know
• Can they drive in runs?
“I know they can get on base, they can actually hit the ball out of the ballpark a little bit, but what I don’t know is if they can drive in runs. … First of all, you got to get a lot of runners on to leave them on base, so that’s good, but they have a lot of trouble hitting with runners in scoring position. Here’s the good news: there is a theory that says that’s mostly luck. Here’s the bad news: I don’t entirely believe that, and if you talk to people that played in the big leagues, they’ll tell you there’s a mentality to driving in runs that is different from the mentality of getting on base. Maybe getting (Mitch) Haniger, Julio (Rodríguez) and (Ty) France back and going again, sort of being able to lengthen that lineup so that all of the sudden (Eugenio) Suárez and Winker are hitting fifth, sixth, seventh instead of third and fourth, maybe that’s what you need in order to start generating more runs with with men on base. But that really more than anything, I think, has been the challenge that they’ve had this year. And because of it, I don’t know if they can consistently generate offense. When it comes together, it looks great, and they have enough players on this team where you look at them and you’re like, ‘That’s good lineup.’ But you’ve got to consistently deliver upon those results, upon that expectation in order to get to the next step.”
• Can they rise to the occasion in a playoff race?
“Can they lock it in the way really good teams do at this point in the season? I’ve been lucky enough to be around a couple of very good teams. I was in the clubhouse every day covering the 2007 Red Sox that won the World Series, and one of the things you notice about good teams is when they get locked in, they take it to a different level. Their concentration seems to focus just that much more. Baseball is a marathon, right? It’s not a sprint. It’s played over such a long period that you can’t be that intense day in, day out – doesn’t work. It’s not like football. But these guys, when they get to that level, the narrow focus they can get starting in September and then into October is remarkable. They talk differently, they act differently, they seem to just know what the other pitcher is going to throw. Everything just changes confidence-wise and they lock it in. I don’t know yet if the Mariners can do that.
“It’s not September yet and we still got a couple of weeks to go before they get to that point. But that’s what this next month is for, right? It’s odd, I think, to get post-trade deadline by a week and still not fully know who your team is or even who’s going to be on it when some of your injured players return over the course of this week. But once they get that sorted out, they’ve got to lock it in because the playoffs are not that far away. They’re absolutely in position to get there, and if you want these next couple of months to be as fun as they can be in Seattle, they have to do that.”