Fann: Up and down Mariners need Ty France, Logan Gilbert to get going
The Mariners just wrapped up a pedestrian 5-4 road trip against the three bottom-dwellers in the AL West, the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics. The nine-game stretch against division rivals was the epitome of “fine,” though even that adjective is harder to stomach after Seattle dropped back-to-back games in Oakland on Saturday and Sunday.
At 66-56, the Mariners have 40 games left to play in the regular season in what is likely to be an anxiety-filled month and a half. Seattle enters the week tied with the Rays and Blue Jays for all three American League wild card spots, with the Twins (2 1/2 games back), Orioles (2 1/2) and White Sox (3 1/2) still well within striking distance.
A hot stretch would be a welcome sight for Mariners fans, though that seems unlikely unless two of the team’s top players get back on track. That would be Ty France and Logan Gilbert, of course.
France hasn’t been the same since he returned from his wrist injury on Aug. 5. He’s hitting a meager .145 in 62 at-bats with just one hit for extra bases and one multi-hit game in those 15 contests. His wRC+ is just 16 (100 is average), and France’s average on the season has dipped all the way to .283 (it was once .355 back in June).
The immense regression from the All-Star first baseman is something this Mariners’ lineup can’t afford. Seattle is already limited when it comes to run-producing bats. This team desperately needs France to be one of the league’s most clutch hitters with runners in scoring position. His track record as a consistent hitter suggests he’ll regain form, but the urgency and necessity for his turnaround remains.
The same goes for Gilbert, who has seen his ERA jump from 2.78 to 3.52 over his last four starts. Granted, two of those outings were against the Yankees, but regardless he’s been noticeably less effective of late. Gilbert is striking out just 5.75 batters per nine innings while walking almost four per nine in that span. He’s stranding just 58.6% of baserunners and his hard hit percentage allowed is a whopping 47.2%, according to FanGraphs.
For the season, Gilbert ranks in just the fourth percentile of all pitchers in hard hit percentage and the second percentile in average exit velocity, per Baseball Savant. He’s also in just the 12th percentile in chase rate, which helps explain his year-over-year dip in strikeouts. Gilbert’s strikeouts per nine innings is down from 9.7 in 2021 to 8.2 in 2022.
Some of that could be attributed to arm fatigue. He’s at 143.1 innings pitched this season, easily surpassing the 124 1/3 he tossed between the M’s and Triple-A last season.
The issue is that Seattle is thin when it comes to starting pitching. George Kirby, a rookie, is also on an innings limit, and Marco Gonzales has been equally turbulent of late. Looking down the road, this would become an even more significant issue if the Mariners make the playoffs and open on the road against the Blue Jays. That’s because, as far as we know, Robbie Ray remains unvaccinated and would be unable to play in Canada.
I don’t write this to be all doom and gloom, but rather to illustrate that it’s far less of a certainty that the Mariners make the playoffs despite FanGraphs giving them an 88% chance. Should Seattle end its playoff drought this season? Yes, absolutely. But a daily sense of urgency will continue until the magic number is zero.
An uptick in performance from France and Gilbert would undoubtedly make everyone feel more at ease with where this team is headed.