Mariners the ‘team to beat’ in AL West? Why that’s now the case

May 16, 2024, 6:58 PM | Updated: 7:04 pm

Seattle Mariners first baseman Ty France...

Ty France of the Seattle Mariners celebrates after hitting a home run during a 2024 game. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

It’s mid-May and the Seattle Mariners are doing something they’ve rarely done at this point of the season: lead the American League West.

Drayer: Rojas helping Julio an example of Seattle Mariners’ offense evolving

The Mariners are 24-20, have won eight of their past nine series and hold a 1 1/2 game lead for the division over the reigning World Series champion Texas Rangers. Meanwhile, the rest of the AL West is well below .500.

MLB Network insider Jon Morosi joined Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob Wednesday for a conversation about the Mariners and said he feels better about Seattle in 2024 than he has any other recent Mariners team.

“Yes, there’s what your record looks like, winning ball games, but it’s how they’re winning them” Morosi said. “(Wednesday’s 4-2 win over the Kansas City Royals) was a low-scoring game in the series finale that determined who’s going to win the series. They found a way to win. They’re now finding ways to win.”

Seattle Mariners’ offense is different than last year

The early-season struggles that have seemingly followed the Mariners’ offense from year to year certainly haven’t faded away. In April, the Mariners were among the worst offenses in MLB. Some of that could be attributed to ballpark factors. T-Mobile Park is consistently one of the least hitter-friendly stadiums in the league, and the cold weather and dreaded marine layer only amplify that in the early months.

The offense has found a new gear in May, though. Seattle isn’t putting together numbers that rival an offensive power like the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it’s been adequate for a team built on pitching. The Mariners are tied for second in the American League in home runs (19), tied for third in wRC+ (113) and are eighth in runs scored in May.

Morosi pointed to left-handed bats Josh Rojas and Luke Raley bringing more balance to Seattle’s lineup. The pair have been among team’s best hitters and have put up some torrid stretches to bolster the offense. Rojas is batting a team-high .330 and getting on base at .395 clip, and Raley has been at the front of May’s offensive improvements, slashing .375/.444/.688 with three home runs in 11 games this month.

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“Rojas arrived at the (trade) deadline last year, but this really felt like a 2024 type of addition. Then they bring in (Luke) Raley,” Morosi said. “So two lefty bats that I think have really given this team the balance that they needed so desperately. I think it was difficult for them to move on from (Eugenio) Suárez after last year. He’s so popular. Teoscar (Hernández) as well, but we saw late last season how susceptible this team was to quality right-handed pitching.

“They’re not going to necessarily put up 15 runs a game and be this offensive juggernaut like the Dodgers or even the Yankees are, but they put together better at bats top to bottom (than last year).”

Best in the West

Another reason for Morosi’s confidence in the Mariners is what’s going on around them in the AL West. The Rangers had lost five straight before snapping their skid Wednesday, and they’re still awaiting the return of ace Jacob deGrom and veteran starter Max Scherzer. The Astros, meanwhile, are off to a troubling start.

Texas had hoped Scherzer, who had offseason back surgery to repair a herniated disk, could be back by now after beginning a rehab assignment April 24, but he won’t return until at least late May after being moved to the 60-day injured list Wednesday. Two-time Cy Young Award winner deGrom is still working his way back from last year’s Tommy John surgery. The Rangers are hoping he returns late this season.

Houston entered Thursday in fourth place in the AL West at 18-25 and has been plagued by injuries to its struggling pitching staff. Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier have all spent time on the IL this season, and breakout starter Ronel Blanco was recently suspended 10 games after a foreign substance was found on his glove. Meanwhile, high-leverage relievers Josh Hader, Ryan Pressly and Bryan Abreu have had their share of struggles closing out games.

“There’s no question that the context of your division and the competitive structure of your league determines how you view this team,” Morosi said of the Mariners, “and right now they are the best team in this division, both in terms of playing in first place and just the way they’re playing on the field.

“They are the best team. They are the team to beat in the American League West, full stop.”

Room for improvement

Another reason Morosi is so bullish on the Mariners is that they’re four games above .500 and leading their division without playing their best baseball.

That starts with what’s happened with the top of the order. Seattle is still waiting for star center fielder Julio Rodríguez, who typically hits second in the lineup, to find consistency at the plate, and leadoff hitter J.P. Crawford started slow before an injury that’s kept him out for the past three weeks.

Related: Is expected return of Mariners’ J.P. Crawford now in doubt?

“If you were to tell me that the J.P. (Crawford) would miss time due to injury and Julio would have the numbers that he has right now, I would have said, ‘Oh man, we got problems,” Morosi said. “And yet we don’t because of where they’re standing right now.”

Additionally, the Mariners haven’t yet gotten what they’ve expected out of offseason additions Mitch Garver and Jorge Polanco, which adds two more proven players that could help the offense continue to trend upwards.

“There’s a rhythm to this team that we didn’t see all the time last year, even in what was a pretty good season,” Morosi said. “And honestly, they’re probably more consistent there than they were even in 2022. So you pair that up with a really good rotation and bullpen … I think overall this is as solid of a ballclub as they’ve had in a very long time.”

Listen to the full conversation with MLB Network insider Jon Morosi at this link or in the audio player near the top of this story. Tune in to Wyman and Bob weekdays from 2-6 p.m. or find the podcast on the Seattle Sports app.

More on the Seattle Mariners

• Morosi: Something ‘says a lot’ about Mariners closer Andrés Muñoz
• Mariners Takeaways: Woo looks good, Muñoz shouldering load, more
• Mike Blowers: How Mariners are about to face a ‘good problem’
• Mariners Updates: How Woo is feeling after return, latest on injuries
• Salk: The clear trade route for Seattle Mariners to capitalize on this year

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