Fann: No panic — Mariners’ glass still half-full despite tough weekend

Sep 20, 2022, 9:50 AM | Updated: 11:58 am

Mariners J.P. Crawford Carlos Santana...

J.P. Crawford celebrates his run scored with Carlos Santana during the Mariners' win Monday. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

I won’t gaslight you and tell you that losing three out of four to the Angels was advantageous for the Mariners. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a middle ground between a nonexistent moral victory and hitting the panic button.

Lefko: Mariners dealing with a weight other wild card hopefuls aren’t

The American League wild card race remains largely unchanged. Seattle is currently in the No. 3 spot, 1 1/2 games behind No. 1 Toronto and a half-game behind second-place Tampa Bay. That’s hardly insurmountable, especially given the Blue Jays and Rays meet for a four-game series this weekend. Meanwhile, the Orioles are five games back of the Mariners, which is essentially 5 1/2 games with Seattle owning the tiebreaker between the two teams. That should be insurmountable with just 15 games left to play and the Orioles in Houston for four games over the weekend.

Nothing that happened on the field in Anaheim was overly alarming, either. We already knew that the Mariners lineup was a weakness compared to the pitching staff. That makes it no surprise Seattle struggled to score runs with injuries piling up to the team’s top run producers, namely Julio Rodríguez, Eugenio Suárez, Cal Raleigh and Mitch Haniger. The silver lining is that with the possible exception of Suárez, none of the injuries should bleed into the postseason.

It’s easy to find positives from a pitching standpoint. George Kirby and Logan Gilbert were dominant in their starts in Anaheim, further emphasizing Seattle’s depth in the rotation. Kirby went six innings, allowing just two runs with eight strikeouts. He has now given up just four earned runs over his last 27 innings pitched, good for a sterling ERA of 1.33. Kirby has also racked up 30 strikeouts in that span.

Gilbert has been even better. He held the Angles to just one run on Monday while striking out 11 in six innings of work. After an underwhelming month of August (6.75 ERA in five starts), Gilbert has been lights out in September with a miniscule 0.78 ERA through four starts. His strikeouts per nine innings rate has exploded from 5.06 to 13.3 month-to-month.

It’s worth noting that the emergence of Seattle’s young arms could help the Mariners make it through a wild card series in Toronto without Robbie Ray. Remember, as of earlier in the season, Ray remained unvaccinated to COVID-19, and rules in Canada would still prohibit him from crossing the border.

Speaking of Ray, the biggest disappointment of the Angels series was his start last Friday (five earned runs over five innings, two home runs allowed). He has now allowed 10 earned runs over his last two starts while getting hit hard by the Braves and Angels.

The other troubling trend is Haniger’s struggles of late. He’d been slumping even before he missed a few games due to lower back tightness. In 12 games in September, Haniger is hitting just .174 with no home runs, a 34.6% strikeout rate and a wRC+ of just 46 (100 is average). If you include his last five games in August, that wRC+ dips to 33. Seattle will need its predominant veteran leader to help steady the lineup without Rodríguez, Suárez and Raleigh for the next couple of games at least. It also goes without saying (and here I am, saying it anyway) that a productive Haniger would boost Seattle’s chances in the postseason.

The nervous energy from Mariners fans will understandably remain until a playoff spot is officially clinched. That’s how it goes when you cheer for a franchise that hasn’t made the postseason since 2001. But while losing three of four to the Angels was suboptimal, don’t let it send you searching for the panic button just yet.

Let’s see how they respond the next three days in Oakland.

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