SEATTLE MARINERS

M’s Breakdown: What stands out in middle of 7-game gauntlet

May 19, 2024, 5:30 PM | Updated: May 20, 2024, 12:31 pm

Seattle Mariners Josh Rojas slide Baltimore Orioles 2024...

Josh Rojas of the Seattle Mariners is tagged out attempting to steal second base against Baltimore on May 18. (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

(Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners opened a 10-game East Coast road trip by dropping two of three to the defending AL East champion Orioles this weekend. Seattle rallied for a comeback win Saturday night, but Baltimore’s powerful lineup jumped out to early leads on Friday and Sunday that the Mariners couldn’t recover from. It marked just the second series loss for Seattle since mid-April.

Video: What’s changed most for Mariners since start of season?

The good news for the Mariners? They maintain a 1.5-game lead over Texas atop the AL West, thanks to the Rangers dropping two of three to the lowly Angels. The bad news? The hard-charging Astros seem to have put their sluggish start behind them, having won seven of their past eight games to move within four games of first-place Seattle.

Here are three observations on the Mariners as they head to New York for a four-game set against the American League-leading Yankees.

Mariners still a step behind the Orioles

The first seven games of this road trip are a great early-season measuring stick to see how Seattle stacks up against the American League’s top two teams.

The Mariners and Orioles serve as an interesting comparison, as they both began rebuilds at roughly the same time. The O’s began theirs midway through the 2018 season, while the M’s started theirs following the 2018 campaign. Of course, their rebuilds were very different in scale. Baltimore accumulated a slew of top draft picks while losing 105-plus games in 2018, 2019 and 2021, whereas Seattle took a “stepback” approach that yielded a much less dramatic low point of 94 losses in 2019.

The Mariners came through the other side earlier, breaking their two-decade playoff drought in 2022. But the Orioles surged ahead of Seattle in the league hierarchy last year, racking up an AL-best 101 wins en route to their first playoff appearance since 2016. Through the first quarter of this season, it appears Baltimore is still a step in front. The Orioles have the second-best record in the AL at 29-15, while the Mariners sit at 25-22. And even though it’s difficult to glean too much from a miniscule three-game sample size, Baltimore’s talented young lineup made a statement against Seattle’s vaunted pitching staff this weekend.

Prior to this series, Mariners starting pitchers had allowed five-plus earned runs in only one of their past 32 games. Against the Orioles, it happened twice in three games. Baltimore exploded for a five-run first inning against Bryce Miller on Friday, and then tagged George Kirby for five runs over the first three innings on Sunday. Reigning AL Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson was at the center of the damage, homering in all three games to move into a tie atop the MLB leaderboard with 15 home runs this season.

Henderson is part of an aggressive Baltimore lineup that mashes an MLB-best 1.55 homers per game while also limiting strikeouts. That was on full display this weekend, as Seattle’s starting trio of Miller, Luis Castillo and Kirby combined for just six strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings. According to Statcast, the Orioles put 10 balls in play with 100-plus mph exit velocities against Kirby, which was the most Seattle’s star right-hander had surrendered in his three-year MLB career, according to MLB.com’s Daniel Kramer.

Again, it’s only one series. We’ll see how the Mariners fare against another AL juggernaut this week in the Bronx. But through the quarter mark of the season, the O’s and their fearsome lineup still look a step ahead of the M’s.

M’s show resilience in Saturday night’s comeback win

It was a tough series overall for the Mariners, but it did feature one of their gutsiest wins of the season. After a 9-2 loss in Friday’s series opener and then a three-hour weather delay on Saturday, the M’s were held scoreless through the first six innings of Saturday night’s game. At that point, they were trailing 2-0 and had mustered only one hit – an infield dribbler off the bat of Julio Rodríguez. It looked like Seattle was on its way to another night of minimal run production.

Instead, the Mariners broke through against Baltimore’s bullpen and staged an impressive comeback. Ty France delivered the signature moment, fouling off six two-strike pitches before capping a marathon 12-pitch at-bat with a game-tying RBI double into the right-center field gap. An inning later, Cal Raleigh came through in the clutch yet again, giving Seattle the lead with a go-ahead RBI double. Moore then added a two-out RBI double later in the frame, which brought home a vitally important insurance run that ultimately ended up being the difference in Seattle’s 4-3 win.

For a Mariners team that’s had so many struggles at the plate this season, it would have been easy to fold after getting no-hit for the first five innings Saturday night – especially on the heels of the lengthy weather delay. Yet, they refused to cave. Scott Servais has repeatedly praised the character of this year’s team, including this past week when he said it might be the hardest-working group he’s had in his nine seasons as Seattle’s manager. On Saturday night, the Mariners’ resilience showed.

Another opportunity lies ahead

The Baltimore series may not have gone how Seattle wanted it to, but the Mariners immediately get another chance to measure themselves against one of baseball’s premier teams when they open a four-game set against the red-hot Yankees on Monday. New York is an AL-best 33-15 and sits only one game behind Philadelphia for the best record in the majors. The Yankees have won seven straight games and 13 of their past 15. They also have won 12 of their first 15 series for the first time since 1950 – which is certainly saying something for a franchise that’s captured 14 World Series titles since it last achieved that feat.

New York has arguably the best overall pitching staff in baseball, leading the majors with an MLB-low 3.2 runs allowed per game and an MLB-low 2.83 ERA. The Yankees’ pitching has been especially dominant of late, having allowed just five earned runs in their past six games – including back-to-back shutouts of the defending AL Central champion Twins last week.

All five New York starters are in the top 25 of the AL in ERA. That includes 25-year-old right-hander Luis Gil, who is slated to start Thursday’s series finale. Gil has a rotation-best 2.39 ERA and has yielded just two runs in 24 1/3 innings over his past four starts, highlighted by Saturday’s gem when he set a rookie single-game franchise record with 14 strikeouts against the White Sox. And keep in mind, the Yankees are doing all of this without ace Gerrit Cole, who is still rehabbing after opening the season in the injured list with elbow inflammation.

New York’s lineup is just as talented, led by the fearsome superstar trio of Aaron Judge, Juan Soto and Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees currently lead the AL with a .769 OPS and rank third in the league with 4.8 runs per game. Judge is off to another monster start, with 13 home runs and a .985 OPS, which ranks second in the AL. Soto, the Yankees’ prized free-agent signing this offseason, has 11 homers and ranks third in the AL with both a .313 batting average and a .963 OPS. Stanton also has 11 homers, giving the Bronx Bombers three sluggers on the top 10 of the AL home run leaderboard.

The Mariners certainly have their work cut out for them over the next four days, but it’s another opportunity for them to see how they stack up against the game’s best.

More on the Seattle Mariners

• Mariners Injury Updates: The latest on Polanco and Crawford
• Is Mariners’ Scott Servais a good manager? MLB insider explains
• Ranked: 5 Mariners who need to step up
Rost on M’s: What we’ve learned a quarter through the season
• Seattle Mariners the ‘team to beat’ in AL West? Why that’s now the case

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