Ranked: 5 most surprising things from the Mariners’ season
Sep 29, 2023, 9:47 AM | Updated: 9:48 am
(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Mark Twain was talking about the weather in New England when he said if you don’t like it, just wait five minutes. But he might as well have been referring to the 2023 Seattle Mariners.
Think you know who and what they are? Just wait five minutes. Or maybe five games. Because this season has had more ups and downs, twists and turns than a season of Billions.
Think they stink? Watch them be the best team in baseball for two months. Think they are ready to win a pennant? Watch them fall flat on their face in September. Think they are done after a sweep in Texas and a brutal home loss to the Astros? Watch them play one of their best and most complete games of the season.
The only thing I know about this team is that every time I think I have a clue who or what they are, that changes. And I mean like 180 degrees!
With that in mind, finding the surprises in this season haven’t been that difficult. It seems like virtually every week has had something unexpected. But here are the five biggest plot twists of this Mariners season.
• 5. George Kirby making a two-day “heel turn”
Kirby has been one of the best stories of the Jerry Dipoto era: A high (but not too high) draft pick who they developed incredibly well and who has become one of the brightest young stars in the game. His command is legendary and his stuff has improved since he was drafted. But when you ask folks in the organization about him, they tend to point to his competitiveness as his best attribute.
So when he stated publicly that he shouldn’t have been in the game, it was like Stone Cold Steve Austin shaking hands with Vince McMahon. It wasn’t supposed to happen! Just as Austin’s ensuing storylines weren’t that great and he quickly came back to the good side, so too did Kirby who apologized quickly and tried to move on.
I don’t question Kirby’s intensity, competitiveness nor his desire to be a good teammate. But I’m sure taking heat from a who’s who of star ex-pitchers helped him understand how to handle his frustrations and how to keep them from publicly affecting anyone else.
• 4. Mike Ford saving the DH spot
If you listened to a moment of sports radio or braved the hellscape of social media in April, May or June, you know the Seattle Mariners had a DH problem. They were getting zero (0) production from a spot that had been specifically designated for nothing but hitting! I understand their plan (to use that spot as a way to keep their better players fresh) but it sure wasn’t working.
Enter Mike Ford. Or really, re-enter Mike Ford. The 30-year old is on his third stint with the Mariners and he was killing it in Tacoma. With the lack of production, there was no good reason not to give him a shot and he delivered.
His five home runs, 15 RBI and .895 OPS in July helped start the turnaround. And his 16 home runs have at least helped to legitimize a position that had become a joke. The numbers haven’t remained at that elite level, but he is still running an .802 OPS and a 121 OPS+ so there is nothing embarrassing about that.
• 3. Ty France’s slow slide down the lineup
This is the most unfortunate surprise on this list, but probably the one I would have told was the least believable before the season began.
France has been a steady force at the plate since arriving in Seattle. When he’s been healthy, he’s raked. Plain and simple. An OPS over .800 in his first two seasons and an All-Star nod in 2022 that unfortunately went awry after a wrist injury. When we asked Dipoto before the season which player would be most likely to win a batting title, no one was surprised when he chose France.
Players have up and down seasons. But to drop .20 points off his career batting average while simultaneously seeing a complete drop in power was well beyond what I ever would have predicted. It’s too bad because a 2021-like season from France might have this team still focused on a first-round bye rather than trying to avoid being the last team out.
• 2. The rise of J.P. Crawford
To anyone who scouted Crawford at Lakewood High School, his offensive prowess would never have been in doubt. To the Phillies who drafted him 16th overall but eventually gave up on him because of his defense, the biggest surprise would have been the Gold Glove he won in 2020. But to Mariners fans who watched Crawford put up three seasons with an OPS under .700 and a fourth at just .715, this year has been the most welcome surprise since Gandalf returned in the Two Towers.
He has 18 home runs (and counting). An OPS+ of 129 that ranks ahead of more formidable names like Semien, Boegarts, Tatís, and Turner. All while playing his usual brand of defense, taking the field every night, and showing the leadership qualities that helped this team make its move in the summer.
Like any great story, there was foreshadowing on this power surge. We heard that Crawford spent time at Driveline last winter getting stronger and increasing his bat speed. But to see it all play out has been a joy to watch.
• 1. The rookie pitchers save the day
Like Dante in Clerks, they aren’t even suppose to be here today. But when Robbie Ray went down early, Marco Gonzalez and Chris Flexen had issues and Easton McGee lasted just one (excellent) start, their time came early.
First it was Bryce Miller who burst on the scene with a strikeout to walk ratio we had never seen. Then Bryan Woo followed him with another electric fastball that right-handed hitters still can’t see coming.
Both players are under 25, started the season in Double-A Arkansas, and have combined to pitch more 215 enormous innings. To say the team wouldn’t have been in the hunt without them would be the understatement of the year.
Side note: It would be great to be able to add Emerson Hancock to this list, and we very well might have had he been able to stay healthy.
Not many teams can go nine deep in a rotation, but the Seattle Mariners came darn close. And the rise of these young pitchers make them a threat not only this season, but into a future that is still quite bright.