Don’t let Mariners’ end goal overshadow history some players are making

Sep 8, 2022, 12:51 PM | Updated: Jan 23, 2023, 3:39 pm

Mariners Julio Rodríguez Cal Raleigh...

Julio Rodríguez high fives Cal Raleigh after scoring a run for the Mariners against Toronto on July 7. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It is the weight that looms over this Mariners season and the all-encompassing goal: reaching the playoffs. As the days slip away and the season rapidly hurtles towards the end, the fixation on the word playoffs rivals only that of Jim Mora Sr.’s infamous press conference.

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It is tantalizingly close, more so than it has ever been during Seattle’s 21-year postseason drought, but the single-minded focus on the end goal has created a tunnel-vision effect: check the other scores, check the wild card standings, check the scores again… double-check the standings and agonize over it all again the next day.

It is completely understandable, yet don’t let the focus lie solely on that final outcome while forgetting to appreciate the caliber of baseball the Mariners have played, the historically-good-for-stretches level of baseball that we have seen from this team. It has come in the form of stellar surges from individual players on offense, from each member of the starting rotation on a given night, and from the bullpen that has upended and ascended past all expectations.

Most stats that are thrown out to showcase the impressive marks for this Mariners season date back to June 21, when the Mariners began the day 10 games under .500. Since then, they have compiled the best record in the American League, a 48-21 mark that brought that brought them back from the depths of 29-39. Sure, those are a handful of numbers that might not mean as much without context – luckily Larry Stone of the Seattle Times did just that – and it turns out this stretch puts the Mariners in rare company.

The history the Mariners are racing towards goes beyond just the win total. This season has borne witness to individual performances that will rewrite records and join hallowed company in the process.

Cal Raleigh

The growth for the second-year catcher has been astounding, especially after some early-season struggles and demotion to Triple-A. Since his return to the team on May 7, all Raleigh has done is take the lead among all catchers in baseball with 23 home runs, a mark which has him well within range of surpassing Mike Zunino’s 2017 total of 25, the Mariners single-season record for a catcher.

Raleigh is also a defensive stalwart, a pitch-framing asset behind the plate and a harbinger of outs for those who run on him. Since we’re writers and talkers around here, we let others do the math, and Mariners broadcaster Aaron Goldsmith (inspired by Mariners insider Shannon Drayer of Seattle Sports) found that what Raleigh is doing both offensively at the plate and from behind it on defense has only been done one other time by a Mariners catcher.

A season to remember for a guy who found himself in a three-catcher rotation and had a 2-for-24 start at the plate early in the season.

Julio Rodríguez

This is an article, not a thesis, so unfortunately the section on Julio Rodríguez cannot fully span the length of his numerous accomplishments. Julio’s 4.7 bWAR (Baseball Reference WAR) is the third-highest ever for a Mariners rookie. The other two: Ken Griffey Jr. and Alvin Davis, the latter of which won Rookie of the Year, and the former… well, you know what he did.

Rodríguez is first or second among rookies in nearly every offensive statistical category this season, and his seamless blend of power and speed is redefining what it means to possess those tools at this level.

Julio reached 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases in just 81 games, faster than anyone ever in the history of MLB. The accolades along these lines are seemingly endless: first player to reach 15 home runs, 20 stolen bases, and 50 RBI in just 90 games; fastest in AL history to reach 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases (107 games). It is a constant stream of unprecedented success, or at least results that don’t occur often. And Julio can keep adding to the list: he is just two home runs and one stolen base away from becoming only the third rookie to reach the 25/25 mark, something done before only by Chris Young (2007) and Mike Trout (2012).

The Mariners’ pitching

In the midst of historic seasons by Raleigh and Rodríguez, the Mariners’ pitching staff has delivered its own special moments from the rotation all the way through the bullpen. After the years go by, the bullpen may not get the same acclaim it deserves, nor is it likely that anything gets preserved in the pantheon of baseball history, but it has been the most dominant force in baseball since the oft-mentioned June 21, leading the league in fWAR (Fangraphs WAR), ERA, and opponent batting average.

Hopefully, in this midst of this final push to the playoffs, there is also time to appreciate the efforts we have seen from the Mariners’ rotation. From Luis Castillo’s eight shutout innings in his home debut and seven straight strikeouts to begin the game on Wednesday, to the surreal scene of watching rookie George Kirby magnetized to the strike zone – 24 straight strikes to begin a game – the Mariners are accomplishing feats that we literally have never experienced before.

I know we won’t stop our scoreboard watching and relentless refreshing of the standings (I just did in between writing these two paragraphs), but hopefully it doesn’t overshadow just how special of a season this has been for the Mariners. Admire the journey, the performances we’re witnessing, and the moments that might not be recreated for a long time. It will make that end goal all the more enjoyable, as well.

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