SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer’s Mariners Notebook: Tough September, Muñoz and more

Sep 5, 2023, 11:13 AM

Seattle Mariners Scott Servais Tayler Saucedo...

Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais pats Tayler Saucedo on the shoulder on July 18, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Over the last couple of months, Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais has often referenced in his postgame comments that the M’s would be playing a lot of big games and one-run games in their future. When he spoke of the latter, it seemed he thought they might be right around the corner, but as it turned out the one-run games wouldn’t come until September – Sept. 1 and 3, to be precise.

In other words, right on time.

After putting up record wins in August, the Mariners not just breezing into the final month of the season is not a shock to Servais, especially with the teams right out of the gates on the calendar.

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“Obviously Cincinnati is having a good season, you know what Tampa is doing, you look at the Mets going into the trip but then you look at the roster and where they are at playing at home – this is hard,” Servais said Sunday morning in New York. “Every game is going to be a struggle. It doesn’t matter who you are playing. If you look at our schedule, we don’t have any easy ones. Even the teams who are below .500, they are teams that play us tough. There’s no easy ones there at all.

“That’s the way it is in September when you have a chance to get into the playoffs. I’m not surprised, the players aren’t surprised by it, we just need to keep looking forward. Don’t look behind, look forward.”

September is different. Not every team that is out of it is just punching the time clock waiting to get to the end of the season (see the Chicago White Sox). There are more teams like the Kansas City Royals, who came close to tripping up the Mariners last month, looking to set a tone heading into next season and have young players working to establish themselves.

The Mets are coming off a failure of a season in terms of expectations, but they still have star players and a manager in Buck Showalter who has pledged to honor the division and wild card races and run out his top lineups in those games. The Reds entered this current series in a four-way tie for the final wild card spot in the the National League. And looking ahead a week from now, you think the Angels don’t want to beat the Mariners?

There are no breaks in September, but the Mariners aren’t expecting them. While they can’t roll August into September, what was earned in that month is not lost. To that end, Servais sees the team he has on the field much better equipped to weather a September storm than the team he had in the first half. With a more balanced offense, he has more options for his starting lineup and substitutions. This has led to more consistent production and a belief they can produce.

“When we weren’t doing much offensively, you are trying to hang onto that one-run lead knowing that if we couldn’t hold onto it it was gong to be tough for us to score or add on,” he pointed out. “I think our mindset, just the vibe around our late (game approach) from an offensive standpoint has really changed versus from where it was early in the season. We are more capable of coming back, we are hitting the ball out of the park, we are creating more opportunities, we are more balanced left/right. We still have our issues at the time for the bottom of our order, we can run in a left-handed pocket for someone to throw a left-handed reliever at us, but the vibe around our team is much more, ‘Hey, we can get this done. We can come back if even if we are down a run or two or give up the lead.'”

If that belief is there, they shouldn’t panic over the early September stumble, and that is key as is limiting the mistakes. The free passes via walks and hit by pitches, and the errors Sunday and Monday were uncharacteristic of this team. As such, there was a little less of the “it’s baseball” in Servais’ tone in his postgame comments.

September will be tough, don’t make it tougher on yourself.

Notes

• Perhaps the one “up” note from the struggles the past few days are the top leverage arms in the bullpen have gotten a small break with Matt Brash last pitching on Sept. 2 and Andrés Muñoz on Sept. 1. In addition to the break, Munoz has received a boost as well, being named American League Reliever of the Month after posting a 1.93 ERA while picking up nine saves in 11 opportunities in August.

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With the award being voted on by writers in each MLB city, I asked Muñoz, who took the two blown saves in August hard, if this had him looking at his month in a different way.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “Sometimes we think a lot about one or two bad outings we have and think we are not doing our job. That affects our mentality, I think. Even in New York, I was thinking about the two outings I didn’t do my job. You start to think too much about it. Maybe I didn’t do the right things, but as soon as I heard about the award I started to think maybe I need to look at things differently.”

• While the series with the Reds is a homecoming in terms of team for Eugenio Suárez, Luis Castillo and Luke Weaver, it is a little more literal for Dominic Canzone, who grew up outside of Cleveland and attended Ohio State University. Canzone grew up a Guardians fan but did spend time at Great American Ballpark growing up to see his favorite player: Ken Griffey Jr.

“My dad would take me to at least one Reds game a year to see Griffey because he was my favorite player,” he said. “He was such a special talent, obviously everybody loved his swing but I just loved how he just went as hard as he could on every play. The types of grabs he made in the outfield, you just can’t replicate.”

Canzone has already taken advantage of one of the perks of being a Mariner by getting to meet Junior, first during Félix Hernández’s Mariners Hall of Fame weekend and then spending time with him in the dugout on the last homestand.

• In addition to the homecomings in Cincinnati was a reunion for Julio Rodríguez and his friend Noelvi Marte, a former top Mariners prospect who was sent to the Reds in the Luis Castillo trade last year.

Rodríguez and Marte’s relationship goes back to their teenage years when they met in the Mariners’ Dominican academy, and Marte said Monday they are “like brothers.”

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