Table Setter: The Mariners are following Jean Segura’s lead now
No one will ever accuse these Mariners of not putting up a fight.
The Mariners head into the week having won five of their last seven, and four of those wins saw Seattle take the lead in the seventh inning or later. It’s a throwback to the Refuse to Lose slogan that was birthed by the 1995 team’s miraculous late-season turnaround and subsequent playoff run. (Yes, I know, I’ll drop some change in the jar for mentioning the ’95 Mariners again.)
Entering a day off Monday, the Mariners are 27-19, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Angels (26-21) for the American League’s second wild card and two games behind Houston for first place in the American League West. Here are three storylines to follow this week.
Mean Jean assumes control
Jean Segura is probably the closest player personally to Robinson Canó in the Mariners’ clubhouse, a product of Segura looking up to his fellow Dominican Republic native as he was coming up in the game and the fact that Canó took him under his wing at a time when Segura really needed it. Now, it appears Segura is stepping up to the plate as one of the leaders of the Mariners with Canó out until August due to a failed drug test.
The same day Canó’s suspension was announced, Segura put his emotions to work in breathtaking fashion, going 3 for 5 with four stolen bases in a 9-8 extra innings win over Texas. And he was just getting started.
After going 2 for 5 with the walk-off RBI single in Sunday’s 3-2 win in 11 innings over Detroit, Segura is hitting .385 (10 for 26) with two doubles, a triple, a home run, six runs scored and six RBIs since the news of Canó’s suspension broke. And that’s really just part of an even bigger hot streak, as he is hitting .429 over 11 games since May 9.
It’s not just what Segura is doing at the plate that is why he has emerged as a team leader. Just watching games this year, you can see him taking charge more with his teammates and becoming more of the emotional heart of the team – something that has been much more apparent over the past week. He’s always been a vocal player, but in the absence of Canó, the 28-year-old shortstop seems to be filling a similar role that his usual double play partner fills for the M’s. Just watch his reactions when Mitch Haniger parked a game-tying home run in the ninth inning Sunday, and then when Segura drove in Dee Gordon for the walk-off win in the 11th.
Both plays. Both calls.
For those who can't get enough of that ballgame 👇 pic.twitter.com/VHB6884qz4
— Mariners (@Mariners) May 21, 2018
For a team looking to keep its great start to the season going, that kind of emotional leader huge.
You can’t teach chemistry
Alright, yes, there are people who are literally paid to teach chemistry, but we’re talking about baseball here, not science. It’s pretty clear the Mariners have good team chemistry this season, something no doubt aided by having Dee Gordon and Segura at the top of the order and rally starters peppered throughout the lineup.
This is another reason the Mariners have, at least for a week, been able to shake off the loss of an All-Star that usually bats third for them. It’s also something general manager Jerry Dipoto pointed to a few weeks ago while talking to 710 ESPN Seattle’s Bob, Groz and Tom (full story here).
“I think (chemistry) is why you’re seeing this team show as much resiliency as they’re showing. They bounce back,” Dipoto said. “… They like each other, they work hard, they’re fun, they get along very well, and when you have that kind of synergy and you feel that kind of sync with your teammates, it makes it so much fun to go out and play.”
To this point, it’s made the Mariners a lot of fun to watch, too. They’ve shown that falling behind in a game is no reason for fans to tune out, just like on Sunday when they were at risk of being no-hit into the seventh inning and ended up winning in extras.
Diamonds in the rough
Nobody is going to confuse the Mariners’ rotation and bullpen for those of the Astros, but both groups had a pretty good week all told.
Obviously James Paxton throwing his second complete game in a three-game stretch on Saturday helped, as he is officially at ace status after his no-hitter and so far completely healthy 2018 campaign. But Wade LeBlanc again deserves some attention, as he allowed just two runs on 5 1/3 innings Sunday, including 4 1/3 scoreless after giving up a two-run homer to John Hicks in the first inning. The crafty left-hander got a vote of confidence from manager Scott Servais after the game, too, when the skipper was asked about where LeBlanc sits in the Mariners’ plans after moving into the rotation from the bullpen earlier this month.
“He pitches every fifth day for us,” Servais said. “He’s pretty good.”
As for the bullpen, it is still are about one impact arm short of actually being good. When Juan Nicasio is on, like he was Sunday, things look a lot better. The arrival of Ryan Cook, an All-Star in 2012 who last pitched in the majors in 2015 due to injuries (including Tommy John surgery), is interesting and very well could end being a turning point for the relief corps. The 30-year-old right-hander has made two appearances since being called up from Triple-A on Thursday, allowing just one hit and striking out a pair over two innings.
Servais wasn’t shy in sharing what the plans for Cook are, either.
“He’ll play a big part in our bullpen here going forward,” Servais said, unprompted, in his opening statements after Thursday’s game.
How Seattle will handle the eighth inning will continue to be a question mark heading into this week. Nicasio and Nick Vincent have been inconsistent, and Cook may get a shot sooner rather than later. The Mariners’ answer to setting up closer Edwin Diaz will probably still end up being a trade acquisition at some point, however.