Drayer: Are Mariners in better shape than at this point last year?
Jun 2, 2023, 10:25 AM
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
The Seattle Mariners finished the month of May with a record of 17-11, a far better result than the horrific 10-18 they posted a year ago. It is a new year, however, and the question now is if they are in any better shape at this point of the season than they were in 2022.
By the numbers, the 29-27 Mariners are four games better than they were after 56 games last season (25-31), but with every club in the AL East posting a winning record and more competition in the AL West, they have more than got their work cut out for them.
This year, there is the matter of the Texas Rangers. “Are the Texas Rangers for real?” was the question shot around the table on a roundtable during a Mariners Radio Network pregame show last week. All but one of the participants answered yes.
“I’m going to be the last one standing,” said producer/engineer and broadcaster Gary Hill. “I can’t get there yet. I still think (Rangers starting pitcher Nathan) Eovaldi is not going to do this all year. They have so many health questions with their rotation. High-risk, high-reward rotation – at some point the risk is going to hit them.”
When or if that happens remains to be seen. The rotation could actually get a boost when Jacob deGrom is ready to go again. In the meantime, the Rangers have offense, and lots of it. So far, it’s been enough to overcome a mostly missing deGrom and suspect bullpen. It’s hard to see Texas not sticking around.
Not in the Mariners favor for where they currently stand is the new MLB schedule. With a more balanced schedule where each team plays at least one series against the 29 other MLB clubs, there are less chances to take a direct shot at division rivals. In that sense, the Mariners have dug themselves a bit of a hole. Despite coming off a 10-game homestand with a 7-3 record and plus-24 run differential – all good things – to date, the M’s have yet to establish traction to start climbing out of it once and for all. This is why the “good things” haven’t felt reassuring in terms of where this season is going.
The pitching has been there. Despite recent hiccups, the rotation is going to be OK. Luis Castillo has track record, George Kirby has passed every test thrown at him, and I am just going to go ahead and bet on Bryce Miller.
The bullpen, which has done fantastic work, is about to get back what it has sorely missed: the ability to put out a fire with a strikeout, with Andrés Muñoz expected to return Tuesday when the Mariners arrive in San Diego. In the minors, Prelander Berroa is being prepped to do the same.
The arms and the defense have held up their end of the bargain, but the corner will not be turned until we see consistency with the offense. We have talked plenty about the individual struggles, but a bigger struggle has been hitting as a team, doing the right thing. One needs to look no further than the series against the Yankees for an example. Sure, Aaron Judge did his thing, but this wasn’t a fearsome Evil Empire lineup with Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo and Harrison Bader all dealing with injury. No matter if the Isaiah Kiner-Falefas, Jake Bauers and Willie Calhouns were doing the right things.
The Mariners might actually have a good example in house. It is just one month, but Cal Raleigh has made an adjustment, shrinking his 32.3% strikeout rate in April to 19.1% in May, doing something manager Scott Servais has been asking his players to do since spring training.
“He’s made a big adjustment with his two-strike approach,” Servais answered when asked about the improvement following Raleigh’s walk-off hit in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over the Yankees. “Maybe more than anybody else on the team, you notice it more. He chokes up, he shortens up on his swing, his stride. He just tries to put the ball in play.”
Cal called game. pic.twitter.com/gMUTcQFedV
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) June 1, 2023
More than anything, Servais was impressed with how Raleigh got to his two-strike approach. It wasn’t coach-dictated; rather, a realization.
“I used to want to just hit a home run every time,” said Raleigh. “I’m being honest, everybody wants to be the guy, you want to hit the home run, but you have got to take what the game is giving you. You have got to understand that the game might not call for a home run, it might call for just moving the runner. You try to do those little things and it’s when usually good things happen. You get those hits, you get those home runs. It’s funny how that happens.”
Taking what the game is giving you is clearly easier said than done, but it is indeed a controllable. As the Mariners’ offense continues to search for consistency, the example is there with Raleigh and at times others. It will certainly be needed in an important three-game series that starts Friday night in Texas.
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