Where has this version of the Mariners been? Passan weighs in

Aug 9, 2023, 2:47 PM | Updated: 3:06 pm

Seattle Mariners Andrés Muñoz Cal Raleigh...

Andrés Muñoz and Cal Raleigh of the Seattle Mariners celebrate their Aug. 8, 2023 win. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners’ up-and-down start to the season caught some MLB insiders by surprise. But after being a true 50-50 team through 100 games, the M’s have figured something out and go into action Wednesday night with a 61-52 record, putting them in the thick of the playoff race.

Where has this version of the Mariners been?

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ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan, a weekly guest on Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk, was high on the M’s going into the season, and he certainly didn’t expect them to struggle out of the gate like they did. He joined the show Wednesday morning, and he shared his thoughts after being asked why Seattle has suddenly gotten “red-hot.”

“Not just red-hot – the Mariners are playing like we thought they were going to for the entirety of the season, right?” Passan replied. “Like, this is the team that I think on opening day all of us envisioned was going to show up, and it was absent for the first, what, 3 1/2 months of the season? I mean, really like the entirety of the first half, the Mariners were just playing mediocre, uninspired baseball, and they have come out of the trade deadline – when they sold – and turned into one of the best teams in baseball.

“… The Mariners are playing baseball that demands to be seen right now, and it’s really nice to watch because I think all of us believed that it was still somewhere in this team. They just couldn’t find it, and now that they’ve found it, it’s a pretty cool thing to see.”

Why are the Seattle Mariners on a roll?

You might expect that offense has a lot to do with the Mariners’ in-season improvement, but Passan believes it’s just more of an indication of how dominant their pitching is.

“I think there is a confluence of factors, and primary among them is that they have had the best pitching in baseball since July 1,” Passan said. “They have the best ERA at 3.32. They are striking out more hitters than every team I believe outside of Milwaukee and Minnesota. They’re not walking anybody. And they’ve had some luck on their side, too. You know, the batting average on balls in play, which for the league this year is, I believe, around .296, the Mariners (pitchers) have a .270, so clearly they’re turning batted balls into outs.”

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While Passan believed going into the season that the Mariners had enough offense to be a contender, he’s changed his tune based on what he saw earlier in the season, and he’s sticking with that even with Seattle’s recent run of success.

“I would love to sit here and say, ‘Yeah, the offense has turned.’ No, the offense is the offense, and if the Mariners don’t make the postseason this year, fans are going to rightly lament the lack of bats. We can keep going back to my ill-advised comment leading into the season here where I was wrong about them not having enough – I still don’t think they have enough offense, but that’s how good their pitching is.”

A surprising team the M’s could pass

When the conversation turned to the standings, Passan shared an interesting observation about the Tampa Bay Rays, who were the hottest team in MLB to begin the season but entering Wednesday were in position for the American League’s first wild card with a 69-46 record, seven games ahead of the M’s. The Rays are 9-12 since July 16, whereas the M’s are 15-6 over the same period, and Passan has his concerns over the state of Tampa Bay’s pitching staff.

“For me, the really interesting team to keep an eye on is the Tampa Bay Rays,” Passan said. “I don’t think the Rays are going to lose a playoff spot… but Shane McClanahan is not pitching for the rest of this year, Jeffery Springs and Drew Rasmussen already were out, Tyler Glasnow has a back thing right now (so) who knows how long that’s gonna keep him out. Josh Fleming is on the injured list and throwing down in the minor leagues, but he’s Josh Fleming. I mean, right now, if you look at the the Rays’ rotation, it’s an unmitigated disaster. And, frankly, they haven’t been playing great baseball otherwise. The offense has certainly taken a step back from what we’ve seen over the first couple of months.”

The Rays share a strength with the Mariners, however, that will keep them competitive, and Passan is being careful about buying too much into Seattle’s current hot streak.

“Now, I will say this: their bullpen is really, really good, and it’s really deep, and they’re going to be getting Andrew Kittredge back, as well,” Passan said, “so if anyone can paper it over, it’s the Rays. They’re used to doing this by now. They’ve been without a really good rotation for years and still somehow have won, but I think the Rays are vulnerable at this point and it wouldn’t altogether shock me to see them fall even closer back to the pack. And granted, we’re talking right now about a Mariners team that’s at its apex this year. We can’t expect this type of play for the remainder of the season, but at the very least they’ve given themselves a shot and that’s all you really wanted to see from this team after the the way the first three months went right. You wanted to see it play like you knew it could play, and that’s exactly what it’s done.”

Listen to the full Brock and Salk conversation with ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post.

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Where has this version of the Mariners been? Passan weighs in