How much did bumpy road trip hurt first-place Mariners?

Jun 26, 2024, 12:38 PM | Updated: 1:52 pm

Seattle Mariners J.P. Crawford...

J.P. Crawford of the Seattle Mariners makes a throw on June 24, 2024. (Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

(Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

It’s fair to say the Seattle Mariners had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad road trip.

It was a struggle for the nine days the M’s were away from home, as they followed up a series-opening win in Cleveland by dropping six of the following seven games.

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That adds up to a series loss to the American League Central-leading Guardians (which you can stomach), another to the lowly Miami Marlins (which you can’t really stomach), and finally a third straight dropped series to a middling Tampa Bay Rays team that made it seem like the wheels were falling off until a three-run homer Wednesday by Cal Raleigh (who else?) helped Seattle avoid getting swept for the first time in 2024.

Meanwhile, the Houston Astros have suddenly caught fire. They won two of three against the Chicago White Sox, the worst team in the AL, steamrolled through a Baltimore Orioles team fighting for first in the AL East for a sweep, and kept the train rolling in another sweep over the NL-worst Colorado Rockies.

Just like that, the Mariners’ lead in the AL West that was at 10 games to start of the road trip has been cut down to 4 1/2.

Yeah. Ouch.

Alright, but let’s take a step back for a minute.

It’s June 26. The Mariners are 46-37 and lead the division. And there’s no one who’s really going to say they have played their best baseball yet. So, that’s a good thing – so long as Seattle’s best baseball shows up soon, which tends to happen in the summer months.

The Mariners still lead the division despite just going through one of their toughest trips of the season, too. Remember that this is the team that has the most brutal travel schedule in the league year in and year out due to how far away its home city is from every other in the majors. So is it all that much of a surprise that the M’s would run into trouble going to Cleveland, then spending six days in Florida, which is literally as far away from T-Mobile Park as they can get? This is all exacerbated by the fact that Seattle has been much more comfortable at home this season, owning a 27-12 record at T-Mobile Park compared to 19-25 on the road (something the M’s would no doubt like to even out, of course).

And by the way, the second-place Astros (40-40) needed to win Wednesday just to get to back to .500.

Now, not all the facts here are comforting.

The Mariners did not play good over the past week and a half. They should have a bigger lead when nobody else in the division has a winning record. The offense remains a huge issue, struggling to score runs and sometimes even just to put the ball in play. And it’s clear additions need to be made for Seattle to hold off Houston and the defending World Series champion Texas Rangers, let alone start making a push for a higher seed in the playoffs that would get them a bye through the wild card round.

Those roster needs pretty much cover everything now, too.

The M’s sure could use at least a proven bat to add to their lineup if not multiple ones. The bullpen looks one high-leverage arm short. And the rotation might be in need of a veteran innings-eater as well with Bryan Woo sidelined and fellow second-year starter Bryce Miller racing toward passing his career-high workload by the end of next month.

Seattle also needs just about every key hitter on the roster to start producing more like the backs of their baseball cards, star center fielder Julio Rodríguez chief among them.

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The thing is, do you doubt Julio is going to get things figured out, something he’s done after slow starts in each of the previous two seasons? Are J.P. Crawford, Cal Raleigh and Mitch Garver all going to finish the year with sub-.700 OPS marks? Is Jorge Polanco going to stay under a .600 OPS? That all seems unlikely – not impossible, but unlikely.

The arrival of key offseason addition Gregory Santos to the bullpen is getting closer as he prepares to start a minor league rehab assignment, too, so that would only help Seattle’s ability to keep opponents from scoring in the late innings.

And all signs point to the Mariners making a splash before the July 30 MLB trade deadline as they’re faced with their best opportunity to win a division title in over two decades. They’ve said they plan to go for it, and it really wouldn’t make sense to say so if they had any qualms about it. Plus, they did make the biggest trade of the deadline two years ago to get Luis Castillo, and with a farm system stocked with multiple top-100 prospects, they have the ammo to take their shot again.

The Mariners are a first-place team that have underachieved in some big ways this year. They’re a first-place team with room for improvement. There are different ways to interpret those realities, but to me, I read them as positives.

Yeah, the Mariners’ lead isn’t as nice and roomy as it was 10 days ago. But they remain in the driver’s seat of the AL West going into July with every reason to improve their roster for the stretch run. Not a bad spot to be, so long as they get back on track with the nine-game homestand that starts Friday.

More on the Seattle Mariners

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Mariners trade MLB veteran from Triple-A Rainiers to Brewers for cash
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How much did bumpy road trip hurt first-place Mariners?