Three things that jump out after first-place Mariners’ latest series win

Jun 6, 2024, 4:53 PM | Updated: 4:57 pm

Seattle Mariners OF Julio Rodríguez...

Julio Rodríguez of the Seattle Mariners reacts to beating the Oakland A's during a 2024 game. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners just wrapped up their third straight series victory and remain firmly in first place in the American League West.

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Thursday’s 3-0 victory over the Oakland A’s pushed the Mariners’ record to a season-high eight games above .500 at 36-28, and it extended their division lead to five games over the second-place Texas Rangers.

Next up is a challenging trip to Kansas City to take on the surprising 37-26 Royals. But first, here’s three observations after a series victory in Oakland.

Woo’s pitch limitations a non-issue

There was an uproar amongst Mariners fans last Friday when starter Bryan Woo was pulled after throwing just 66 pitches in six shutout innings against the Los Angeles Angels. That was amplified by the fact that Seattle’s bullpen promptly gave up the four-run lead Woo left with on a grand slam.

The Mariners pushed Woo a bit in Thursday’s victory but continued to be somewhat cautious as he left after throwing a season-high 85 pitches in six shutout innings. Mariners manager Scott Servais has been adamant that team will be careful with Woo’s usage, and his pitching thus far certainly justifies him getting the ball every five games.

Woo allowed just two hits, struck out six and didn’t walk a batter against Oakland. It was the third time in his past four appearances that he’s delivered six shutout innings. In six starts this season, Woo sports a 3-0 record with a sparkling 1.07 ERA, 0.53 WHIP, 24 strikeouts and just two walks over 33 2/3 innings pitched.

The reasoning for Woo’s limited usage this year is sound. The 24 year old missed the first six weeks of the season with a sore elbow that flared up in spring training. That comes after the right-hander shattered his previous career high with 131 2/3 innings pitched between the majors and minors last season. He threw just 57 innings in the minors in 2022 and his final season at Cal Poly was cut short at 28 innings when he underwent Tommy John surgery.

Woo’s limitations would be a bigger issue if he wasn’t performing at the level he is now, or if the rest of Seattle’s rotation was causing the bullpen to be taxed. The latter isn’t happening, either. Seattle’s bullpen entered Thursday having thrown the fewest innings (186 1/3) in baseball while sporting the fourth-best FIP (3.56) and being tied for ninth in ERA (3.57).

At this point, Woo’s shown he’s clearly one of the team’s top-five starting options, regardless of how many innings he throws.

Brown’s firing didn’t instantly fix offense

After the Mariners made the decision to part ways with offensive coordinator and bench coach Brant Brown, they immediately popped off for 19 runs in their three-game weekend series with the Angels. That was followed by a 10-hit performance in Tuesday’s series opening victory against Oakland, but the bats showed over the next two games that they haven’t completely turned a corner.

Seattle didn’t get a runner on base until the seventh inning against A’s rookie Joey Estes in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss, and it mustered just four hits in Thursday’s series-clinching 3-0 win. However, there’s been positive signs during the past week from the offense.

The main source for optimism comes from the fact that the team is striking out at a much more palatable rate. After striking out 10 or more times in 38 of 58 games before Brown’s firing, the Mariners have reached double-digits strikeouts only once in six games. They struck out seven or fewer times in five of those games, which they did just 10 times in the previous 58.

There’s also been some encouraging moments from individuals the team is hoping will find their stride. The loudest of those moments came in Wednesday’s loss when center fielder Julio Rodríguez redirected a 102.5 mph fastball from standout Oakland closer Mason Miller over the center-field fence for a solo home run. It was the fastest pitch to be hit for a home run this season, per Statcast, and third-fastest ever since pitch tracking began in 2008. It was a welcomed moment for Rodríguez during a season that’s seen his power numbers drop immensely early on. The homer was just his fifth of 2024, but it was also his third in the past 11 games.

Related: Why Julio Rodríguez’s HR off closer’s elite fastball is a great sign

Another positive sign was Mitch Garver’s performance on Thursday. The veteran reached base in all four plate appearances and collected two hits, including his sixth home run of the season. It was Garver’s second multi-hit performance in his past four games, which was something he’d done just four times through May.

The caveat here is the Mariners played an Angels team that has some of the worst pitching in baseball and an A’s team that’s below average on the mound, but they’re going to get more of these types of matchups in the near future. Ten of Seattle’s next 21 games are against opponents that ranked 24th or worst in team ERA. The upcoming series against the Royals won’t be one of those favorable matchups, though.

Mariners have the AL West’s number

The Mariners’ run of three straight series victories has come exclusively against AL West opponents. Seattle went a combined 8-2 over 10 games against the Astros, Angels and Athletics. That run improved the team’s record against divisional opponents to 14-5, which is good for a 73.7% winning percentage that is by far and away the best in the division. The Mariners have won all six series against AL West foes and outscored their rivals by a combined 27 runs this season. The Astros (13-11) are the only other AL West team with a winning record within the division.

Related: Why Mariners are in position to ‘separate’ themselves in AL West

How the Mariners fare against the AL West will play a major factor in their playoff chances this season, particularly games against the Rangers and Astros. While the Mariners had the best record within the division a year ago at 33-19, they struggled with a 4-9 record against the Rangers, finished two games behind the eventual Word Series champions and missed the playoffs.

Seattle has a chance this month to get some revenge on the Rangers when they visit T-Mobile Park on June 14-16. That’s the final matchup between the teams until they play seven games in September, and the Mariners could be in position to really separate themselves from second place during the June meeting.

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