Drayer: How the Mariners have turned into the AL’s hottest team

Aug 21, 2023, 8:51 AM

Seattle Mariners Julio Rodríguez...

Julio Rodríguez of the Seattle Mariners celebrates an RBI single against the Royals. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

If it feels like the Seattle Mariners have been living on the edge since the beginning of July, well, they have.

With early expectations not met, sometimes in spectacular fashion, it’s been hard to trust much of the good we have seen – and that’s not just for fans. For a good part of the season, even manager Scott Servais held off declaring corners turned, opting for a “We’ll see” more often than not. What was done or not done at the trade deadline was also a “We’ll see.”

The endorsements of late, however, have been different.

“Our team has gotten better,” Servais said Saturday following the Mariners’ win over the Astros that clinched a season series win over the defending champions. “We continue to get better. I know people get tired of me saying that it doesn’t matter, get better, but that’s what we have done. It is a credit to our players, our staff, and I think the Astros know we’re better, too.”

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The Mariners have gotten better doing it in some expected ways, with core players playing up to and beyond their numbers, and unexpected ways, like the contributions of players like José Caballero and Cade Marlowe who perhaps weren’t expected to be major contributors.

What’s been eye opening is how this group has not just come together at what appeared to have been the last possible moment, but stayed together now for the better part of two months. The last 10 days in particular have been quite a ride for the team and their fans.

We saw the feel-good, get-back-into-the-race eight-game winning streak come to an end in most spectacular fashion with George Kirby getting “Félix’d” on the day Félix Hernández was inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame. It was enough to bring on the “Same old Mariners” whispers from some corners.

Two days later, after dropping a series opener to the lowly Kansas City Royals for a third straight loss, those whispers became louder.

Sure, the team had been playing better, but they were unpredictable. One pundit commented that they could just as easily be no-hit by the Royals as they could come away with a win, and darn it if that (the former) didn’t almost happen against Brady Singer.

The three wins that followed in Kansas City weren’t terribly reassuring for a nervous fan base due to bobbles and misplays in the field, and questions about the back of the bullpen.

Midway through the series, however, Julio Rodríguez took his game to a different level. An historic level – and just in time for the showdown with the Astros in Houston.

What came next can best be described as stunning.

Julio making history. Matt Brash and Andrés Muñoz locking down big saves, with Muñoz overcoming a near complete defensive collapse behind him in the ninth inning Friday to preserve a 2-0 win. Multiple players having four-hit games. The team with a 17-hit game. Small armies left on base. The Mariners’ first sweep in Houston since 2018, and the Astros at the end being the team that called the players-only meeting.

Sunday: Suárez homers, Mariners hold off Astros 7-6 to complete sweep

A stunning reversal, and perhaps a reminder that regardless of how pretty or ugly a win is, a win is a win. And when you stack them up, say, 14 out of 17, that is the bigger picture of where you are.

The players on both sides understand this. Errors, blown saves, runners left in scoring position, and any other imperfections glaring or nitpicked do not reflect what the Mariners currently are, and what they are since July 1 stacks up favorably against their wild card and division competition.

Since July 1, the Seattle Mariners have posted a 31-13 record, second only in MLB to the Dodgers (30-12) in that time. Their wRC+ is second-best (124) in baseball over that stretch, with Texas fifth (119), Houston eighth (115) and Toronto 14th (105).

On the pitching side, the Mariners staff WAR is second only to Toronto, with Texas 10th and the Astros 14th.

We have also seen this team check important boxes since July 1, things we didn’t see in the first three months. We’ve seen better at-bats as a team and the ability to get opposing starting pitchers out of games early. We’ve seen them play add-on, win games late and overcome adversity as a team. The trade deadline, the bullpen shuffle, injuries to J.P. Crawford, Jarred Kelenic and Tom Murphy.

It hasn’t been perfect, but in the end, the results in terms of wins have been there.

What happens in the next 38 games is anybody’s guess – this is baseball, after all – but the footing feels more solid. After a painful first half, the Mariners now have momentum on their side, which should provide for a fascinating finish.

More on the Seattle Mariners

Mariners Injury Report: Emerson Hancock hurt, latest on J.P. Crawford
Mariners, Astros clear benches — again — with Caballero in middle
Dipoto discusses homegrown Julio and Raleigh thriving
What Dipoto said about Brash and Muñoz pitching the ninth for Mariners
Morosi: What does future look like for Marco Gonzales, Seattle Mariners’ rotation?

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