SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: Mariners’ ‘magic formula’ for wins can and should be different

May 5, 2023, 11:53 AM

Seattle Mariners...

Taylor Trammell of the Seattle Mariners is welcomed back to the dugout after hitting a grand slam on April 30, 2023. (Cole Burston/Getty Images)

(Cole Burston/Getty Images)

A popular question this winter regarding the Seattle Mariners and their next step forward was would they finally be able to catch the Houston Astros? Tonight, they have that chance, although the script has changed a bit.

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Yes, the Astros come into town with a record of 16-15 having lost four of their last six games while the Mariners – if not in the most convincing manner – have won four straight and now sit at 15-16.

The Astros after 31 games last year were 20-11 and enjoying their first day atop the AL West since their 10th game of the season. The Mariners? Well, they were catching their breath at 14-17 having just won their fourth game of the last 14. On that day, the Mariners were 6.5 games back. Today they sit at 3.5 back.

In terms of making up games, I’m going to use that word that is not very popular right now – it’s early.

Yes, it has been a disappointing start. What you would have liked to have seen was the team taking off out of the gates, and on some levels, that was a very fair expectation.

Unlike the past years in the stepback where the team’s composition and performance in the second half mattered more as pieces were added and young players gained experience, this year, the develop/compete at the big league level balance should have shifted to compete from the get go with or without the extra bat they needed. But this is baseball and there are no guarantees. Last week in Philadelphia, The Athletic’s Jayson Stark, who joined the pregame show for the Roundtable segment, had an interesting observation.

“The Mariners to me are a reminder that you think every year is going to be the same as the year you just saw, and it is never like that,” he said. “The Mariners go through the whole season in 2022 and never have a single starting pitcher miss a turn because of injury and then what happens once the new year comes? Robbie Ray doesn’t get through his first start of the year. It’s kind of what baseball is. It is so hard to replicate the formula that worked the year before. It’s so hard to replicate the magic that happened the year before. It’s such a long season, it’s such a grind, it’s such a fascinating and challenging sport. I feel like that’s where the Mariners are right now is trying to search for that magical formula that made them what they were last year.”

It was an interesting observation from an outsider with impeccable Hall of Fame credentials.

There are, of course, the obvious reasons why the Mariners have struggled – see anyone with a bat not named J.P. or Jarred and heck, why not? We’ll throw Cal in there for good measure – but Jayson’s view is more of the inside variety.

I don’t think the players are thinking about the extra bat that is not there. They’re thinking about what is there and perhaps what was there. While it is impossible to translate the magic Stark talked about into wRC+, it is very much a factor with this team.

Belief has been a part of the formula. How many times have you heard a player say they aren’t worried where they are because they’ve been there before and come back or in 2022, almost come back? That’s been very real, but one can’t help but wonder if that has been tested with the offensive struggles we are seeing. If so, that’s a tough realization to have, but perhaps is a good starting point for the next step. It is a new season. The identity and, yes, magical formula, should be different.

This spring, the new players heard all about the one-run games, the wins in extras, the crazy comebacks and the improbable 14-game win streak that fell right on cue. If the belief has been tested by those who went through all of the above, it was probably a tougher sell for the others as the one-run and extra-innings losses began to mount.

Scott Servais has pointed to AJ Pollock as a valuable voice in the clubhouse that has been boosted by his recent contributions. In Oakland, Pollock contributed greatly to two very “Mariners” comeback wins. It was great come through, but perhaps it is time to graduate from the “Comeback Kids” moniker.

“That’s been good, but hopefully we can be that team that is the aggressor that gets on top as well and that’s something I think we will learn,” he said. “Obviously it is good to know that you can come back at any point and I think another step is to be that team that comes out and is able to just smother that team right from the start. Not so much putting up 20 runs, but putting pressure on them right from the beginning. We’ve had games where we have done that. I think we haven’t really put it all together yet, but we are right there. I think we feel good where we are at especially for a team that feels like we haven’t really hit our stride yet.”

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Comebacks are exciting, but this club shouldn’t be in that position as often as it is.

Winning the close ones is a valuable and necessary – especially when your home is T-Mobile Park – skill, but there are opportunities for the Mariners to do more earlier in games.

This lineup, like it or not, is capable of doing much more, but there are individual struggles to overcome. They took advantage of the opportunity of facing a six-win Oakland team and as improbable as it sounds, there could be advantage at hand in the weekend series against the Astros, who have seen their rotation decimated by injuries and some unpleasant surprises with their offense, which the Mariners, believe it or not, actually barely edge out in wRC+ to date.

Hang on and enjoy the uniforms.

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