SHANNON DRAYER

Mariners Insider: Quick hits after AL West leaders’ 6-1 homestand

Jun 17, 2024, 10:19 AM | Updated: 10:22 am

Seattle Mariners Dylan Moore...

Dylan Moore of the Seattle Mariners tags out Texas' Adolis García on June 14, 2024. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

If the road to the division title goes through Texas, as Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais has asserted from Day 1 this year, well, so far so good for the M’s.

Five storylines as Mariners take even more control of AL West

Following what was seen to be an easier stretch of schedule, the highly-anticipated weekend showdown with the Rangers did not disappoint with over 130,000 fans treated to three wins at T-Mobile Park. The Mariners (43-31) headed into a day off Monday a season-high 12 games over .500, and sitting 8 1/2 games ahead of the Rangers (33-38) and nine games ahead of the Astros (33-39) in the division standings.

A far different picture than a year ago in the division, which looked like this:

1. Rangers: 43-27
2. Astros: 39-32 (4.5 back)
3. Angels: 40-30 (4.5)
4. Mariners: 34-35 (8.5)
5. Athletics: 19-54 (25.5)

While the Mariners’ 8 1/2 game lead is the largest in any division (a half-game better than Philadelphia’s in the NL East), it is far too soon to get comfortable. The Mariners, Rangers and Astros could all look very different in the second half, with additions from the outside before the trade deadline approaching, or from the inside with returns from the injured list and under-performers coming around.

On the Roundtable segment Friday during the Mariners Radio pregame show on Seattle Sports, Rangers Hall of Fame broadcaster Eric Nadel gave us a look at the situation with his team.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “They are playing Mariners-style baseball.  The pitching has been better than probably anyone expected, especially with all the injuries, and meanwhile they are scoring 4.3 runs per game, which is down more than a run per game last year. Nobody is having as good an offensive year as last year except for Josh Smith – one guy.”

Like in 2023, the Rangers’ bullpen has been a weakness, but there is opportunity for perhaps dramatic improvement with starting pitchers Max Scherzer and Tyler Mahle due back in the coming weeks and Jacob deGrom possibly not far behind.

“They don’t have to go trade for relievers; they have them in the starting rotation,” Nadel pointed out. “Just as (Texas manager Bruce) Bochy did last year in the postseason, he will use Heaney and Dunning out of the bullpen, potentially even Jon Gray. They may actually be rather inactive (at the trade deadline), maybe add a guy for the bench.”

Nadel and others we have talked to on the Roundtable see the potential for another close finish in the division this year. That is where the wins the Mariners are picking up now are important. Not just with the overall total, but the head-to-head records with the Mariners up 5-1 in the season series against the Astros and 5-2 vs the Rangers. The magic number is seven to lock down playoff tiebreakers, and that did come into effect last year with the Astros grabbing the bye in the postseason as they won the season series against the Rangers, leaving Texas to hop on a plane to Tampa immediately following the last regular season game in Seattle.

Another important record to keep an eye on? The Mariners’ next opponent, the Cleveland Guardians. At 44-25, the AL Central leaders have the second-best record in the American League, which would earn them the second bye in the playoffs while the third best record team would play a three-game series at home against a Wild Card team.

The M’s went 1-2 in an early-season series against the Guardians, and play three at Cleveland this week starting at 3:40 p.m. Tuesday.

Seattle Mariners’ June offensive jump

We’ve seen the offensive numbers tick up in June for the Mariners, who have scored the eighth-most runs in baseball and posted the 13th-highest wRC+ (106) in that time. Their strikeouts are down a bit at 26%,  which is third-worst in baseball, but their walk rate of 11% is best in baseball. Add to that 19 home runs hit in 15 games and we are seeing better balance with K’s.

Individual trends in June that are encouraging? Your wRC+ leaders are:

Mitch Garver: 159 (20% strikeout percentage)
Dominic Canzone: 145 (23.5%)
Luke Raley: 142 (36.2%)
Julio Rodríguez: 139 (26.6%)
Tyler Locklear: 117 (41.4%)
Mitch Haniger: 103 (22.7%)

Probables and notes for Guardians series

Tuesday: Bryce Miller (SEA) vs. Triston McKenzie (CLE)
Wednesday: Bryan Woo (SEA) vs. Tanner Bibee (CLE)
Thursday: Luis Castillo (SEA) vs. Logan Allen (CLE)

The name in the Guardians’ lineup that will be circled is of course José Ramírez. Mariners pitching has done a good job with the “don’t let them beat you guys.” The Rangers’ Corey Seager has been held hitless by Seattle this year (0 for 20 in 25 plate appearances), limiting damage from White Sox star Luis Robert (3 for 12 in 15 PAs with four runs scored off three home runs), and quieting the bats of the Royals’ Salvador Perez (3 for 20 in 25 PAs) and Bobby Witt Jr. (6 for 24 in 26 PAs with one extra-base hit).

Returns, reinforcements near?

The Mariners are close to getting key players back with first baseman Ty France with the team in Cleveland, second baseman Jorge Polanco on a rehab assignment, and reliever Gregory Santos one step closer to throwing to hitters after a 30-pitch bullpen with an “up-down” on Saturday. In Double-A, rising prospect Logan Evans continues his work as a reliever, having made four appearances out of the ‘pen for Arkansas, with the last two coming with two rest days between outings. Evans, who has a 1.11 ERA and 0.95 WHIP this season, switched from starting to a relief role at the beginning of this month.

The insider view

Worth a mention, a lot of good has been seen behind the scenes with the Mariners. First baseman Tyler Locklear talking about Ty France being the one who has helped him the most on multiple occasions stands out. Early work that has been put in on defense by both Locklear and second baseman Ryan Bliss has been great to see, as both rookies have improved greatly from what was seen in spring training. Last but not least, a treat! In honor of Father’s Day on Sunday, the Mitches – Garver and Haniger – arranged to have an espresso bar complete with barista in the clubhouse lobby for their teammates and Tucker, who received a puppuccino.

More on the Seattle Mariners

Gilbert spins gem, first-place M’s sweep Rangers with 5-0 win
With sweep, first-place Mariners now have MLB’s biggest division lead
A top Mariners prospect out for season with torn ACL
Former Mariners pitcher highlights two unsung heroes of pitching staff
Seattle Mariners rookie Tyler Locklear making good early impressions

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