JOE FANN

Fann: Mariners still stuck in neutral with pivotal stretch next

Jun 1, 2023, 1:51 PM

Seattle Mariners Ty France...

Mariners first baseman Ty France reacts after striking out against the Yankees on May 31. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

You might read the headline above and think it’s a bit unfair. The phrase “stuck in neutral” can be debated, but I’m still not convinced the Seattle Mariners have turned any sort of meaningful corner just yet.

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With a 17-11 record in May, Seattle has improved to 29-27 on the year and sits 6 1/2 games back in the American League West of the first-place Texas Rangers (35-20). It’s certainly not an insurmountable hole with 106 games left to play, but it’s a hole nonetheless.

The Mariners ended their latest homestand with a much-needed 7-3 record after salvaging Wednesday’s game against the Yankees. Now they’ll head on the road for a pivotal eight-game road trip against the Rangers (three games), San Diego Padres (two) and Los Angeles Angels (three).

Hovering around .500 has kept Seattle afloat, but at some point the Mariners will have to get hot, particularly against the teams they’re chasing in the division. That’s especially true now that head-to-head matchups against division rivals have been reduced from 19 to 13 with MLB’s new, more balanced schedule.

Seattle has done an admirable job of beating inferior opponents, most notably with its 7-0 record against an historically bad A’s team, but the Mariners have struggled mightily against opponents above .500 with a combined record of just 10-17.

The biggest issue remains within the lineup. Wednesday’s win against New York was a 1-0 extra inning thriller, meaning it took Seattle 10 innings to score a single run. The Yankees took the other two games in the series 10-4 and 10-2.

Julio Rodríguez has begun to heat up with three homers, a .328 average and a 164 wRC+ over the last two weeks. However, the team as a whole has just a 98 wRC+ in that same span with a 25.9% strikeout rate that ranks seventh-worst in the league. Seattle also ranks 18th with 61 runs scored over the last 14 days. The power outage in terms of the longball has been the biggest surprise. The Mariners rank 18th in home runs this season after ranking ninth in 2022.

Eugenio Suárez (92), Teoscar Hernández (85), Kolten Wong (33) and AJ Pollock (58) all have wRC+ numbers less than league average (always 100). Those are all guys Seattle entered the season expecting run production from, especially in the case of Suárez and Wong. Tom Murphy (84) and Taylor Trammell (79) haven’t been able to help much, either. It’s impossible to overcome that many holes in the lineup. At some point, Suárez and Hernández, as well as Cal Raleigh and Ty France to a lesser extent, will have to get going.

Seattle will begin their road trip on Friday against the Rangers, a team that appears to have staying power. Texas ranks second in all of baseball with a 126 wRC+ and 85 runs scored over the last two weeks. That run production was to be expected with a daunting lineup that features Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Adolis García and other mashers. But it’s Texas’ pitching staff that has been surprisingly impressive. Even with Jacob deGrom on the injured list, the Rangers rank second in FIP (3.41) the last two weeks. Texas is also 16-11 against teams over .500 and took its first series against Seattle two games to one.

None of it is rocket science. The AL West is immensely competitive with the Rangers and Angels (30-27) returning to relevancy and the Astros (32-23) remaining as the team to beat. The rest of the league is crowded as the Mariners are currently sixth in the wild card race with Boston (28-27) just a half-game behind them. Hovering around .500 won’t cut it forever, and there’s no better time to get hot than with the Rangers and Angels on deck in the next week.

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Fann: Mariners still stuck in neutral with pivotal stretch next