The Mariners finished the 10-game season set against the Rangers with an 8-2 record, thanks to the 4-game sweep over Labor Day weekend. Ever since the disasterous Rangers/Astros/Dodgers road trip where we went 2-8, the Mariners have won 11 out of 14, and were quite close to winning two more in that stretch! That brings us up to a 19-22 record, good for third in the A.L. West and, not for nothing, but also DANGEROUSLY close to actual playoff contention!
No joke, we’re closer to second place in the division (2 games) than we are fourth place (2.5 games), and don’t forget that the top two teams in every division advance to the playoffs (plus two wild card teams per conference).
Now, of course, let’s not go crazy. The Rangers are BAD. But, what I think is pretty entertaining is the fact that the Mariners … might not be bad? I’m also highly amused that we’re in the midst of a 6-game winning streak and this is mostly AFTER the Mariners made all of their trade deadline deals. Sure, losing Taijuan Walker and Austin Nola doesn’t help, but everyone else seems to be addition by subtraction. Let’s look back fondly at the last four days, before reality comes crashing down again as we head to San Francisco to play the Giants over the next couple days.
After our series against the A’s was COVID-ed out, you’d be reasonable in thinking the M’s might be a little rusty or otherwise lacking in focus. But, Yusei Kikuchi brought his lunch pail in this one, going 6 innings, giving up 1 run on 2 hits (0 walks) with 7 strikeouts. It was a highly-effective performance (against, again, a bad Rangers offense). Dylan Moore, back from the IL, has been on fire; he had 2 hits in this one. Evan White also had 2 hits (including a double) and 2 walks, knocking in 2. And J.P. Crawford mashed a 3-run home run to salt this one away late. The Mariners were up 6-1 going into the ninth inning, when the Rangers made it marginally interesting, but they still lost by three runs.
The quality pitching continued for the Mariners on Saturday, as Justus Sheffield went 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 8 hits & 1 walk, with 6 strikeouts. Dylan Moore had another hit in this one. Newcomer Ty France has had a solid start to his Mariners career, with two hits of his own (he has 4 hits and 4 RBI since coming over in the trade with San Diego). There were lots of clutch hits up and down the lineup, though, as the M’s were 5 for 12 with runners in scoring position. Also of note is that Yohan Ramirez notched his second save of his young Major League career, locking down a 5-3 victory.
Justin Dunn couldn’t let the Quality Start train fall off the tracks; on Sunday he managed 6 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks, with 4 strikeouts, after really struggling through the first two innings. This was a game where the offense did just enough in nailing a 4-3 win. Kyle Seager led the way with 2 hits (including a 2-run home run in the first), and Kyle Lewis had a solo bomb. Kendall Graveman made his second appearance of the weekend in this one, since returning from the IL. He’ll be a bullpen guy the rest of the way due to a neck injury that’s preventing him from getting deep into games. He also just might be a bullpen guy forever, because he seems perfectly suited for this role. He can touch 99 miles per hour with his fastball, he has tons of movement on his pitches, and he’s an unflappable veteran who should be good in these pressure-packed moments. Honestly, I’d love to see him as our 7th or 8th inning guy exclusively next year.
Finally, on Labor Day, Marco Gonzales continues to be master of his domain (I’m using that phrase correctly, right? He doesn’t jack off?). He’s also a really great baseball pitcher! 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits (0 walks) with 7 strikeouts. He is just a marvel to watch out there. I figured he could turn himself into a decent #3 or MAYBE a #2 if he really worked at his craft, but he is legitimately a borderline ace right now. At this point, I’m surprised when he’s NOT going at least 7 innings and giving up 2 runs or less. Certainly, in three of his last four starts, he’s gone 23 innings and given up just 4 runs. His ERA now sits at 3.02 and he’s worked his way up to a 5-2 record on the season. The only blemish in this 8-4 victory came in the ninth inning, when Aaron Fletcher was handed a soft landing of sorts with a 6-run lead. He got one out while giving up a run and leaving the bases loaded. Yohan Ramirez had to enter in this improbable save-situation and try not to give up the farm. He got a quick out on a sacrifice fly, walked the bases loaded again, but got the final batter to foul out to end it, picking up his third career save in the process. Big moment for the kid!
Look, I know it’s dumb to dream of the playoffs now, especially when the Astros still get to play the Rangers a whopping seven times, but I just think it’s remarkable that we’re in this position at all. The starting pitching – particularly from the younger guys, but really across the board – has been better than I ever could’ve imagined. The bullpen has been a struggle to watch, but I would argue our very worst offenders (save Aaron Fletcher, for now) are off the team and out of the organization entirely.
What has obviously impressed me the most has been the hitting. The everyday players. Kyle Lewis has cooled off considerably since his red-hot start, but he’s still finding ways to contribute and should be a leading Rookie of the Year candidate. Kyle Seager has been flat-out fun to watch! He’s the kind of guy you love to have leading a new crop of youngsters, as he goes about his business the way you hope EVERY player on your team would. J.P. Crawford is still streaky as all get-out, and hasn’t quite mastered the power element of his bat, but his ability to get on base hasn’t wavered all year; with his defensive ability up the middle, I’ll take it. Evan White is still digging himself out of a pretty deep hole to start his Major League career, but he’s been MUCH improved over the last 2-3 weeks. He doesn’t look lost at the plate, and his power is insane when he’s able to connect.
The real fun has come from the fringes. Austin Nola obviously turned himself into an All Star and was traded for a bounty. Dylan Moore appears to be right on his tail, hitting .293/.369/.565 with 7 doubles and 6 homers; that’s supposed to be your utility outfielder! He was this scrawny-looking Quad-A guy last year who was barely hitting over .200 across 113 games! Then, there was Sam Haggerty (before he just went on the IL), who came out of nowhere to hit like a maniac. And even Jose Marmolejos has been red-hot since being called back up from the minors! His defense isn’t any sort of sight to behold, but he’s more than making up for it with his power bat!
The point is, I expected the offense to struggle a lot more than they have this year. Of course, there’s still about three weeks left to go, so anything can happen.
Counterpoint: there’s still about three weeks left to go, so anything can happen! We have ten games against National League opponents (who don’t get to see us too often, and therefore aren’t used to beating up on us like the American League has). We have three games – at home – against the Astros (our rivals for one of those playoff spots), and six games against the A’s (who are leading the division at the moment, but are long overdue for a cool-off period).
If the Mariners are worthy of making the playoffs, they’ll figure out how to overcome this two-game deficit. If they’re not, then it wasn’t meant to be. Either way, it won’t change my excitement level for 2021 one iota. Better days are ahead, my friends! I can feel it!