Fann: Mariners have an ace, standout bullpen, returning phenom and high odds to make playoffs
The stars are aligning for the 61-52 Seattle Mariners, so long that they can take care of business against inferior opponents. Seattle secured a respectable 10-10 record over its last 20-game stretch that featured 13 matchups versus the Yankees and Astros.
Baseball’s most embattled franchise over the last two decades now has an 89.4% chance to make the postseason according to FanGraphs following a second series win against the Yankees in as many weeks. Those odds dip a bit according to FiveThirtyEight but still stand at 83%.
Seattle took two-of-three against New York thanks to elite pitching, including two stellar starts from Luis Castillo and Robbie Ray (14 1/3 innings, two earned runs and 14 strikeouts combined) and a dominant bullpen (a collective 7 2/3 innings, one earned run and nine strikeouts in the pair of victories). That will surely be the Mariners’ formula if and when they reach October baseball.
Castillo has lived up to his billing through two starts with Seattle, each standout performances against the Yankees with 15 combined strikeouts over 14 2/3 innings. His evident top-shelf stuff, demeanor and ability to pitch deep into a ballgame make him a bona fide ace and worthy of the steep price paid in order to acquire him from the Reds at the deadline.
Ray has shown enough to confidently label him as a No. 2 starter in the playoffs. Logan Gilbert has scuffled of late with a 7.17 ERA over his last four starts, but he still figures to be the third man in the rotation. The collection of Gilbert, George Kirby, Marco Gonzales and Chris Flexen (recently moved to long relief) should be able to pick up the pieces and keep Seattle in games in order to get to the bullpen.
The Mariners can win a three-inning game against anybody with Diego Castillo, Andrés Muñoz and Paul Sewald, not to mention Erik Swanson, Penn Murfee, Matt Brash and potentially Ken Giles.
Seattle’s lineup is where the team’s greatest question marks remain. It wasn’t the nine combined runs in the latest three games against the Yankees that were worrisome, but rather the 12 runs over four games against Angels last weekend that raised red flags. Since July 1, the Mariners rank 18th in wRC+ (101), 25th in average (.225) and 21st in OPS (.686).
That doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons for optimism. The return of Mitch Haniger has already buoyed the offense. He’s 7-for-17 (.412) with one double, a homer, three walks, four runs scored and two RBIs in five games since being activated from the injured list. Rookie Julio Rodríguez is right behind him and expected to return on Friday.
We’ll finally get our first look at a batting order with Rodríguez, Ty France and Mitch Haniger at the top. Question marks remain about what Seattle will get from Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suárez, J.P. Crawford and others down the stretch, but that’s still a heart of the order that should be able to come up with enough timely hitting to win games.
With 49 games left and the easiest strength of schedule in all of baseball, the time is now to get hot and stay hot. The Mariners, currently in the American League’s No. 2 wild card spot, are only 1.5 games from being outside of the playoff picture. It should be expected that the Orioles, Rays, Twins and White Sox will remain in strong pursuit over the next month-and-a-half.
Conversely, Seattle is only a half-game back of Toronto for the No. 1 Wild Card, a spot that would guarantee the Mariners at least two home playoff games. That should be the goal with the Astros up 10.5 games in the American League West.
The sense of urgency has been there as this team doesn’t give up on games. That has been and must continue to be the case. Next up for the Mariners are three-game sets against the Rangers, Angels and Athletics, all of which will be on the road.
All of Seattle, and the rest of the teams in American League Wild Card race for that matter, will be watching.