Drayer: Will Mariners return ready for another 2nd-half surge?
Jul 12, 2023, 9:56 AM
(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Congratulations all around to the Seattle Mariners and the city on a great MLB All-Star Week. It was fun seeing the big production and stars on the home field, and truly special to see how the fans responded in the stadium. The Mariners themselves seemed to have a great time, as well.
Now it is time to get their two days of rest before the season resumes. There’s work to be done.
Perhaps some of the heavy lifting has already taken place. The lifting of the burden of not living up to expectations in the first half. Those feelings were hashed out in the hour-long, players-only meeting on June 30 before Game 1 of their series against the American League-leading Tampa Bay Rays. The Mariners lost the game that night but came back to win seven of their next nine and improve to 45-44, taking that series from the Rays as well as the next two on the road against the Giants and Astros.
While all who were asked said the break was well-timed, that leaves the question of how they continue the momentum after four days off. Manager Scott Servais has pointed to shortstop J.P. Crawford as setting the tone, a responsibility he takes personally.
“It’s about just trying to keep everyone involved every day,” Crawford said. “Try to keep the gas pedal on and keep that momentum. I think it has been paying off. Play with a purpose. Every game, every inning, every pitch, just be checked in. If you are doing that, you can’t ask for anything else.”
Starting pitcher Logan Gilbert, whose performance so far in July earned him AL Player of the Week honors, has noticed the focus.
“I think it’s everybody,” he said. “I don’t think there is really any magic answer. I think guys are just playing really well out there, trusting what they do out there, taking care of their own business, just trying to find a way to win.”
That way to win for the offense has been to grind out at-bats together. When individuals struggle, and there are still struggles, the sum of the team can cover.
“Just move the line,” designated hitter Mike Ford said. “We are doing a great job of it as a group and that’s what winning teams do. We have this ability. It’s a special group when we play for one and other.”
Center fielder Julio Rodríguez, who drew a seven-pitch walk against Craig Kimbrel with two outs in the ninth inning in the All-Star Game, sees the same.
“We are staying positive,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we fall down a little bit, we always go right back and fight. I feel that is something that has been key. We have been fighting for each other every single game. I feel like that’s why we’re turning this thing around.
“You can tell we are just playing more comfortably and with not so much pressure playing. I think you can tell by the way we are playing. It’s real fun to play baseball like this.”
The Mariners had similar fun this time last year, winning 14 straight heading into the All-Star break. That group would have preferred to keep playing, keep the momentum going, but their path was different. This year, most said the break was welcome. They could use a minute to catch their breath, regroup and refocus on what was working before coming out for a second half run. They could breathe a little easier, however.
“It leaves us with a lot of confidence,” relief pitcher Paul Sewald said after a series-clinching win Sunday in Houston. “Go 2-7 instead of 7-2 and the break’s looking a lot different. (General manager Justin Hollander and president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto) have a lot different jobs. It’s important that we finished strong and now we have to get off to a good start if we want to get where we want to go.”
If they get off to that good start, then they will have earned some help. And indications are that Justin and Jerry would like to add. That could prove difficult with a market that is not expected to be robust going into the Aug. 1 MLB trade deadline, but rare is the deadline that gets by where a move is not made by the Mariners.
Regardless, as it has been all season, the best help could come from within. If Rodríguez (169 wRC+ in the second half of 2022), Eugenio Suárez (136) and Cal Raleigh (126) can find their selves from after the break last year, and Ty France can look more the 2022 All-Star version of himself, it could go a long way in getting the Mariners to where they want to be. For now, they’ve given themselves a chance.
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