Three things that stand out after Mariners’ wild series in Kansas City

Jun 9, 2024, 8:00 PM | Updated: Jun 10, 2024, 6:30 am

Seattle Mariners Luke Raley Royals 2024...

Luke Raley of the Seattle Mariners tags out Kansas City's Kyle Isbel on Saturday. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

In another crazy series at Kauffman Stadium that was filled with wild twists and turns, the Seattle Mariners escaped Kansas City with an extra-inning win on Sunday to avoid getting swept for the first time this season.

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The Mariners suffered their most demoralizing loss of the year on Friday night, blowing an eight-run lead in a 10-9 walkoff defeat. They lost again Saturday night and then blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning Sunday afternoon, but rebounded with three runs in the 10th and held on for a 6-5 extra-inning victory. Through 20 series this season, Seattle still has not been swept.

The Mariners remain atop the AL West at 37-30, sitting five games ahead of the Texas Rangers and 6.5 games in front of the Houston Astros. As the M’s return to T-Mobile Park for a seven-game homestand against the MLB-worst Chicago White Sox and the AL West rival Rangers, here are three things that stand out.

More Kauffman craziness

The Mariners seemed well on their way to a comfortable win in Friday’s series opener after scoring seven runs in the first inning and stretching their lead to 8-0 in the fourth. But as they’ve found in recent years, nothing comes easy at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals stormed all the way back and won on a ninth-inning walkoff to hand Seattle a stunning 10-9 loss.

It was a bit of déjà vu from a late-September game in 2022, when the Mariners held an 11-2 lead over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium before surrendering 11 runs in the sixth inning and falling 13-12. More chaos ensued in Seattle’s trip to Kansas City last year, when both teams blew big leads in the first two games of the series. The Royals blew a 5-0 lead in the series opener before winning 7-6 on a walkoff bunt single, and then the Mariners blew a 7-0 lead the following night before winning 10-8 in extra innings.

In fact, of the last nine games between these two teams at Kauffman Stadium, six have been decided by one run and two more have been decided by two runs. Seven of those nine games had a go-ahead run scored in the eighth inning or later, including five games with a go-ahead run in the ninth or later.

Rough series on the hill

Even the best pitching staffs go through rough patches over the course of a 162-game season. For the Mariners, this weekend was certainly one of those times. Seattle gave up 23 runs in the three-game set, which was the most it had allowed in any three-game series this season.

The Royals average 4.98 runs per game, which ranks third in the American League behind the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Guardians. And according to Statcast, Kauffman Stadium has the third-highest park factor in the majors, meaning it’s one of the game’s most hitter-friendly parks. So, if the Mariners were going to have a rough series on the mound at some point, it makes sense that it happened in this particular series.

Bryce Miller retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced in Friday’s opener, but gave up a three-run homer in the fourth and yielded a season-high seven runs in five-plus innings. After opening the season with a sparkling 2.04 ERA through his first six starts, Miller has a 5.36 ERA over his past seven outings. On Saturday, Luis Castillo surrendered a season-high five runs in five innings, ending an impressive streak of 10 consecutive starts of allowing two earned runs or fewer. George Kirby then stabilized things for Seattle’s rotation on Sunday, tossing seven strong innings of one-run ball.

The bullpen had a nightmarish series. Seattle’s relievers blew a pair of saves and allowed a combined nine earned runs, 11 hits and seven walks in 9 2/3 innings. The Mariners’ bullpen has been decimated by injuries, with Matt Brash out for the season, Gregory Santos out until at least July, Gabe Speier on the 15-day injured list and Andrés Muñoz recently missing a few days after aggravating a lower-back issue in a collision at home plate. On top of that, Seattle is entering the final week of a grueling stretch of 43 games in 45 days. The Mariners’ bullpen has held up admirably for most of the year, but it’s possible the injuries and schedule could finally be taking their toll.

The good news, however, is that Muñoz returned to pitch a one-two-three eighth inning on Sunday. With their bullpen’s depth already being significantly tested, the Mariners can ill-afford an IL stint from their standout closer. His return was undoubtedly the best sign of the weekend.

France heads to IL just as he was finding a groove

Heading into the season, there was optimism that Ty France could rebound from a rough 2023 campaign and recapture his All-Star-level production from the first half of 2022. France spent this past offseason honing his swing at the renowned Driveline training facility in Kent, the same place that helped Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford break out last year for the best season of his career. And after a strong spring training, it appeared the work was paying dividends.

France got off to a rough start once the regular season came around, batting just .235/.292/.326 with two homers, six doubles and a .618 OPS through his first 37 games. But around mid-May, he turned a corner. Over his past 24 games, France is hitting .279/.387/.532 with five homers, five doubles and a .919 OPS. However, in the first inning of Friday’s game, France got hit by a pitch on his right heel. He stayed in the game and went 2-for-3 with two doubles and an RBI, but was scratched from the lineup Saturday and then placed on the 10-day injured list Sunday after it was revealed that he’d suffered a hairline fracture. It’s a tough break for a hitter who seemed to have finally rediscovered his groove.

For the Mariners, the good news is that their most MLB-ready hitting prospect happened to be a first baseman. So, with France headed to the IL, they promoted highly regarded 23-year-old slugger Tyler Locklear and started him at first base for Sunday’s series finale. Locklear, who had a strong start to the season in Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A Tacoma, made an immediate impact, delivering a go-ahead RBI double in the seventh inning of Seattle’s extra-inning win.

More on the Seattle Mariners

• Watch: Mariners’ J.P. Crawford hits leadoff HR in 2nd straight game
• Seattle Mariners place Ty France on IL amid flurry of roster moves
• Why Seattle Mariners ‘have to nail’ trade deadline deals
• Alonso, Robert or Guerrero? Keith Law on each as M’s trade targets
• Video: Ryan Bliss’ first HR caps Seattle Mariners’ seven-run inning


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