SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: Mariners enter September having turned the tables

Sep 1, 2023, 9:59 AM

Seattle Mariners...

The Seattle Mariners celebrate after defeating the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 22, 2023. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

(Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Da da-da da-da dahhhhhh…Da! Da!

Do you remember…

The jubilant opening horn line from the Earth, Wind & Fire eternal hit “September” took new meaning when I started chasing a baseball team 20 years ago. It was a favorite as a trumpet player in Husky Marching Band, but to hear it in the stadium in Oakland in mid-September when the Seattle Mariners came to town five games behind the A’s for the division lead, for the first time it sounded like a baseball song.

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Since then, I have played “September” to open the Pregame Show on Sept. 1 each year. Most years it was not a celebration of what was to come, rather a mark of a changing season as we got ever closer to the end of baseball for the year and beginning of fall. In recent years, however, the song has evoked feelings of excitement for the hard-earned possibilities of the chase ahead. This year, it is the Seattle Mariners being chased and the song, the horn line in particular, not just jubilant, but triumphant.

Oh yeah, “Ba-dee-ya, (they’re) dancin’ in September.”

These guys are loose, they’re dancin’, and they’re believing. Their fate is in their hands and that’s a great place to be Sept. 1. You want to see nerves? Don’t look to the team or the manager decked out in their Julio-given Run DMC travel gear. Look to the fans. That’s where the nerves will come from at least early on and that’s understandable. It’s part of being a fan. It’s also part of having zero control of any outcome.

The players have the ability to move this forward each day. The fans? All they can do is buckle up for the expectations express.

That same team that frustrated you April through June has turned the tables and given you every reason to dream big. Julio Rodríguez pushed the superstar button and has risen to the top of the game. Was that really Julio chasing breaking pitches well off the plate and hitting just .211/.278/.386 (.664 OPS) through May 17? Nah. The .321/.378/.528 (.905 OPS) version since looks much more like what was expected to follow his Rookie of the Year campaign of 2022.

Of course while he is instrumental to their success, Julio can’t do it all himself and he hasn’t had to with the entire team finally getting above the ninth in the AL 95 wRC+ through the first half and continuing to rise to an AL-best 129 since. Also shrow in their team OPS jumping from 11th with a .689 to best .816.

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And the strikeouts, you ask? They’ve gone from an AL-worst 25.6% rate as a team to an AL second-worst 26%. Yep. They can live with the strikeouts if the power is there, and we have seen that power with regularity since the start of July.

So the offense joins a pitching staff that for some time now has had pundits and opponents saying the Mariners are not a team they would like to run into in the postseason. Easy for a pundit to say, tougher for a fan to live in what will be a critical 30 days.

Pitfalls from injuries to regression could lie ahead. Can the young starters continue to contribute at their current levels and do they have enough in the bullpen? A strength of the offense in their recent surge was what they were able to do against the fastball.

The pitching will get tougher in September and beyond, but the Mariners have gotten tougher at the plate, putting up a season high plus-68 run differential for the month of August topping the previous four months combined. A word of warning for those who will be hanging on every win and loss: because of the competition, September games may very well be more of the one-run and extra innings variety. The optimist would say it’s a good tuneup for the postseason where every arm faced is a good arm.

As for those who prefer to take their baseball with a cup of worry, remember this team has done remarkable things to pull themselves out of the massive crater they dug in the first half of the season. Again.

How many times during the struggle was it pointed out that they simply couldn’t rely on another 14-game winning streak? I suppose neither could they rely on a record 21-win August. Have we learned anything here?

Maybe take a cue from the trident raising, win, dance, repeat Mariners themselves.

Enjoy September.

Video: Seattle Mariners Breakdown — Will amazing August lead to AL West title?

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