MIKE LEFKO

Lefko: Are Mariners’ chaotic comebacks their path back to October?

May 21, 2024, 9:52 AM

Seattle Mariners Cal Raleigh...

Cal Raleigh of the Seattle Mariners reacts after scoring in the ninth inning against the Yankees. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

(Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

There’s a healthy debate to be had about whether a week starts on Sunday or Monday. What isn’t up for discussion is that the two days are next to each other on the calendar.

It’s a minuscule amount of time in the wide expanse of a season, yet the Seattle Mariners’ games on Sunday and Monday had diametrically opposed finishes that unveil two end points on the spectrum of possibilities.

Sunday: M’s fall to O’s 6-3 | Monday: Colossal comeback – M’s stun Yankees

This Orioles and Yankees portion of the schedule loomed as the early-season litmus test, a gauge of whether the Mariners are simply good or truly on the level of pennant-caliber teams in the American League. There have been impressive series wins already this season, but the one indictment on the résumé are the losses against the best in the AL. The Guardians and Orioles broke through the Mariners’ bedrock of starting pitching and simultaneously highlighted the deficiencies in the M’s lineup.

For seven innings on Monday in the Bronx, it looked like much of the same.

We’ll start with the path that ends in disappointing fashion (there is one more debate for you about getting bad news or good news first). Right now, the Mariners are a definitive tier below the best teams in the American League. Sunday and Monday started in identical fashion: a relentless, potent lineup puts up two runs in the first, and the Mariners’ offense doesn’t have enough firepower to muster an comeback. That was how the story finished on Sunday, and it followed a pattern that has occurred in Mariners losses this year: allowing runs in the first inning.

This team operates at its optimal efficiency when it has a lead, with 21 of Seattle’s 26 wins coming after scoring first. The Mariners have not been able to do that when falling to some of their tougher counterparts around the AL. Expand out from Sunday’s loss and the Orioles scored five in the first on Friday en route to a 6-3 win, matching what the Twins put up in their first trip to the plate to win the finale of that early May series (adding on to the game prior when the Twins scored two in the first). And a rubber game in April against the Guardians spiraled out of control after Cleveland scored three in the first inning of an eventual 8-0 win.

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That is the concern – that this sample size, extrapolated out over the course of a season, shows a fatal deficiency in this Mariners team. Fall behind early and let the opposing starter lock in. It’s what Yankees starter Marcus Stroman did on Monday, at one point retiring 15 in a row and getting through the seventh inning for the first time since June of last year. But that’s not how the game ended, and with a stirring comeback win, the Mariners marked another endpoint for how their season can play out.

What does it take to score four runs in the ninth inning, on the road, against a team that was on a seven-game win streak and had the second-most most wins in baseball? A little bit of everything. The Mariners took the best reliever on the Yankees (closer Clay Holmes) and grinded him down to dust. An eight-pitch at-bat by Julio Rodríguez ended with an infield single, Cal Raleigh worked a walk on six pitches, and Dylan Moore fought back from down 0-2 to draw a walk of his own.

The contributions came from a myriad of places. Luke Raley’s speed caused a rushed throw and critical error. Mitch Haniger channeled a clutch gene that was on display the last time he wore a Mariners uniform. Dom Canzone, starting just his fourth game since missing a month, tied the game in the ninth with a sacrifice fly just and inning after his solo home run ended Stroman’s night. And Ty France once again tapped into his run production of the last week, bringing home the winning run with a single through the right side just two days after he ended a 12-pitch at-bat in Baltimore with a tying RBI double in the seventh inning of a game Seattle would win 4-3.

This is something that MLB Network’s Mark DeRosa said earlier Monday on Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob is a trait of teams that make deep playoff runs.

“I think the best teams, every guy on that roster knows how they add value that given night to try and help the team win,” said DeRosa, who played 18 years in the big leagues and managed the United States team in the 2023 World Baseball Classic.

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That value has pinballed throughout the lineup. Josh Rojas helped shoulder the burden in the first month of the season, while Raley and Moore have picked up the slack as of late. Add in the expected and consistent clutch nature of Raleigh, along with Julio starting to find his rhythm and cut down on strikeouts over the last week, and the M’s have the offensive core to supplement their starting pitching.

The Mariners’ lineup has shown the ability to put together rallies against relievers. Saturday’s win against the Orioles had a similar tenor, as did a win in Minnesota that featured a pinch-hit grand slam by Raleigh, a 5-4 win in a rubber game in Houston that had another big homer by Raleigh, and a series-opening win over the Braves that ended on a Mitch Garver walk-ff home run.

Monday night might have topped them all and brought forth a potential path for the Mariners that runs a long way through October.

More on the Seattle Mariners

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Mariners Injury Updates: Sam Haggerty out for season; Crawford returns
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Lefko: Are Mariners’ chaotic comebacks their path back to October?