BRENT STECKER

5 things that stand out after Mariners’ huge series win over Guardians

Aug 28, 2022, 6:43 PM | Updated: Aug 29, 2022, 11:52 am
Mariners Ty France...
Ty France celebrates his solo home run in Sunday's Mariners win with Cal Raleigh. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The up and down pattern that the Mariners have followed since the All-Star break continued over the last week, but this weekend was up’s turn, and it made for an exciting four games that may have been a playoff preview.

Dominant Ray, HRs lead Mariners past Guardians for series win

The Mariners took three of four from the American League Central-leading Cleveland Guardians, and they would have had a sweep if not for their first occurrence all season of blowing a lead in the eighth inning or later on Saturday. The M’s and Guardians proved to be evenly matched, but the difference was that Seattle’s pitching was just a bit better – which is a very good sign should these two teams in fact meet in the postseason.

Let’s start the takeaways by looking at that stellar Mariners pitching.

1. The top of the Mariners’ starting rotation is special.

On Sunday, Robbie Ray was at his absolute best, tossing seven innings of shutout ball, allowing only three hits and no walks while striking out seven. It was arguably better than his win over the Nationals on Tuesday night when he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, and it was just a continuation of him being one of the best pitchers in baseball since turning a corner in mid-June some 14 starts ago.

The thing is, he might not even be the best pitcher in the Mariners’ starting rotation right now.

That’s because Luis Castillo has been everything the M’s could have hoped for and more since they acquired him ahead of the MLB trade deadline, allowing just 10 earned runs over five starts (31 2/3 innings) with 39 strikeouts to eight walks.

Castillo has a 2.84 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in his short time with Seattle, while Ray has a 2.60 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 106 strikeouts to 29 walks over his last 15 starts.

There is a legitimate conversation to be had over which pitcher is the Mariners’ best right now – if you wanted to have it. Or you could just say “good luck” to any team that may end up matching against Seattle in a three-game wild card round series.

And it’s not like the third pitcher the M’s could throw in that hypothetical series would be a walk in the park, either, especially if rookie George Kirby keeps up what he’s been doing. The lanky right-hander has been tremendous himself all season but especially in his last eight starts, owning a 2.42 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with 53 strikeouts to just six walks over 44 2/3 innings.

The Mariners might have the best 1-2 punch atop their rotation of anyone in baseball right now, and their 1-2-3 is pretty good, too. Just ask the skipper on the other side this weekend.

“Their entire staff is impressive,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said at the end of the series Sunday. “I mean, you’ve got your work cut out for you. That doesn’t mean you can’t win, but you got your work cut out for you.”

2. Give the backstop his due, too.

Pitching has been the Mariners’ calling card this year. At various times, the starting rotation or bullpen have carried the team, and lately they’ve been sharing the load while the lineup does just enough to win more than lose.

There’s one constant for that staff, and it’s the man behind the plate: catcher Cal Raleigh, who is proving to be wise beyond his years and every bit the son of a baseball coach when it comes to calling a game and handling a staff.

“Our young catcher is really good – really good,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said Sunday after Raleigh called the game for all three pitchers in a combined shutout, and threw out a baserunner trying to steal second base early in the game. “Calling the game, making in-game adjustments, his pitch framing, throwing guys out – huge out today early in that ballgame. We need to continue to give him credit because he’s really taken ownership in our pitching staff.”

Servais added that there’s something to be said for Raleigh, all of 25 years old and with just 142 games of MLB experience, earning the trust of Ray, last year’s AL Cy Young.

“When the Cy Young Award winner appreciates what he does back there, it says a lot,” Servais said.

3. Ty France needed Sunday.

While the pitching was what led the Mariners to the series win, that is what most fans would have expected if you asked them how the M’s could win three of four against the Guardians. What Seattle needs, though, is for the offense to start doing more, and specifically for the scuffling Ty France to find the form that took him to the All-Star Game earlier this year.

And that’s why the biggest development of the weekend was France breaking out on Sunday.

France’s slash lines over the last month aren’t pretty. Over the last 30 games, it’s .198/.264/.342. The last 15, it’s .135/.190/.192. And over the last seven, it’s .100/.100/.250. He hasn’t looked like himself at the plate, with a less choosy pitch selection – another way to say that he’s been chasing more pitches out of the strike zone than usual – and his slugging numbers have taken such a tumble that there’s been legitimate concern that his wrist isn’t 100%.

Frustration seemed to come to a head Saturday night when he flat-out missed a routine throw from the second baseman while covering first, then was thrown out of the game for getting into it with home plate umpire Lance Barrett a half-inning after he was called out on strikes (it wasn’t a good night for Barrett, by the way).

France needed a win or two in the worst way, and on Sunday, that’s what he got. First was a single, which snapped a brutal seven-game hitless streak. And then in the seventh inning, he took all of his anger out on a baseball.

“We need Ty France’s bat back and it showed up today,” Servais said. “I’m really excited about that.”

He’s surely not the only one.

4. Mitch Haniger’s importance cannot be overstated.

While the Mariners’ offense has struggled with consistency in August, at least they’ve had Mitch Haniger back. And not a Mitch Haniger trying to find his footing after months out of action. Just the best version of Mitch Haniger they could have hoped for.

Since returning from a high-ankle sprain on Aug. 6, the 31-year-old right fielder has slashed .291/.356/.468 for an .824 OPS with four homers, two doubles, eight walks, 11 RBIs and 13 runs scored in 20 games. He delivered the big hit Friday night, walking off Guardians All-Star closer Emmanuel Clase in the 11th inning with an RBI single to right field. He even saved a run with his arm Sunday, causing a Cleveland runner to turn tail back to third rather than attempt to score on a flyout.

Haniger is good enough to keep the offense afloat when it’s struggling. If France and fellow All-Star Julio Rodríguez, who’s also had a slow August, can both get back on track, the Mariners might just do what Haniger said they would: end this drought.

5. The next man up might be more than that.

Before we wrap this thing up, Dylan Moore deserves a little attention. He was provided an opportunity at shortstop on Sunday with J.P. Crawford sitting due to a sore left pectoral (he’s day to day), and Moore made the most of it.

Much like fellow utility man Sam Haggerty, Moore has come up big in his limited chances of late and may be worthy of additional playing time. Over his last 15 games, he’s 5 for 18 for a .278/.409/.556 slash line and .965 OPS. Yes, that’s a small sample size, but he’s also shown he’s comfortable in big spots at the plate over the past two years and plays above-average defense at just about every position on the field.

The Mariners have settled into a situation lately where Moore takes over for Jesse Winker in left field as a defensive upgrade late in games. Don’t be surprised if he proves to have more heroics up his sleeve down the stretch.

Mariners this week on Seattle Sports

• Monday: Extra Innings (Mariners interviews and analysis from 7-9 p.m.)
• Tuesday: The Scott Servais Show on The Dugout, (1 p.m., during Bump and Stacy)
• Tuesday: Mariners at Tigers (3 p.m. pregame, 4:10 first pitch)
• Wednesday: Mariners at Tigers (3 p.m. pregame, 4:10 first pitch)
• Thursday: The Jerry Dipoto Show (8:30 a.m. during The Mike Salk Show)
• Thursday: Mariners at Tigers (9 a.m. pregame, 10:10 first pitch)
• Friday: Mariners at Guardians (3 p.m. pregame, 4:10 first pitch)
• Saturday: Mariners at Guardians (3 p.m. pregame, 4:15 first pitch)
• Sunday: Mariners at Guardians (10:30 a.m. pregame, 11:40 first pitch)

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