The Skidding Mariners Drop Back-to-Back Series
August’s hottest team has cooled significantly since the calendars flipped to September, but they’re still in this thing… right? After losing back-to-back series to the Reds and Rays, the Mariners are in sole possession of the third wild-card spot. It’s a far cry from the AL West pennant, but it’s still well within reach. How do they bridge the gap with Houston and stay in the fight?
Let’s dive into some keys to playoff success for the Mariners.
Keys to Reaching the Playoffs for the Seattle Mariners
5. Tom Murphy Returning from Injury
Tom Murphy has been one of the unsung Mariners heroes during his Seattle tenure. During his time in Colorado, the Murph showed flashes of greatness but needed to be given the keys to succeed. In his best year with the Rockies, Murphy hit .273 with five home runs and 13 RBIs in 21 games.
The Mariners acquired Murphy from the Giants in March of 2019. That year, Murphy split time with Omar Narvaez, where they were the best offensive-catching partnership in baseball. In 75 games, Murphy hit .273 with 18 home runs and 40 RBIs. Murphy has been a valuable backup for the Mariners, but he’s been no stranger to the Injured List. He has yet to play more than 100 games in a season. 97, his career high, came with one of the worst offensive seasons of his career. That also led to the Mariners calling up prospect Cal Raleigh, so things worked out alright.
At the beginning of 2022’s playoff return season, Murphy was on fire before dislocating his left shoulder and missing the rest of the season. He was on pace for another quietly impressive season before he was sidelined with a fractured thumb. Through 47 games, he hit .290 with eight home runs and 17 RBIs. He seemed to have made a miraculously fast recovery and is set to be re-evaluated on September 22, 2023.
Seattle has struggled to find a quality backup for Murphy when Raleigh needs a day off, so his veteran presence in the lineup and the locker room is desperately missed.
4. Stopping Their Starter’s Bleeding
The Mariners haven’t used much starting pitching this year, with their stopgaps of Bryan Woo and Bryce Miller doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Since Jerry Dipoto took the reigns, the Mariners have become a pitching juggernaut, seemingly turning DFA’d nobodies into elite relievers, but their magic works on starters, too. In addition, the Mariners have done some savvy drafting, with four of their five starters in 2023 being homegrown.
Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Bryan Woo, and Bryce Miller were all drafted by Seattle. Prospect Emerson Hancock made a couple of starts for the Mariners as well. Keeping this in mind, the Mariners’ rotation allowed them to stay afloat during their putrid April, May, and June. The Mariners are second in the league in team ERA, fifth in average, fourth in home runs, and third in total runs given up. This rotation is without Robbie Ray, Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen, and Emerson Hancock.
The Mariners’ 1-2-3 has been as good as anyone’s in baseball. Luis Castillo is cementing himself as the Mariners’ ace, getting an entire season in Mariner blue under his belt, pitching to a 3.08 ERA in 175.1 IP. George Kirby’s sophomore slump is nonexistent, pitching a 3.38 ERA in 165.2 IP. Logan Gilbert has another consistently good year in his young career, with a 3.61 ERA in 167 IP. Gilbert has brushed off some early season struggles, giving up three or fewer runs in 10 of his last 12 starts, going at least five innings 11 of 12 times.
While sometimes inconsistent, Castillo has gone at least five innings all year, proving to be the absolute rock the Mariners needed. There’s a reason they call him ‘La Piedra’. Rookies Woo (70) and Miller (117.2) have helped pick up the workload, pitching in 187.2 total innings. Kirby pitched 130 in his rookie year, while Gilbert pitched 119.1. Frankly, Woo and Miller have been gassed. While starting off promising, they’ve both declined in recent starts. They each gave up five runs in their last respective starts, with the Mariners opting for a bullpen day over Woo’s last scheduled start.
With Emerson Hancock out for the rest of the year, the Mariners desperately need their pitching to pick it up. Especially now that their offense is league-average. In his previous six starts before giving up five to the Rays on Sunday, Miller gave up three or fewer runs while pitching at least five innings, all but once where he went four. This may be a rough patch for Miller and Woo. You can’t expect rookies to carry that sort of workload. Or can you? Looking at you, Kirby.
3. Bullpen Struggles Tail Off
Now that the offense has come around, the pitching has dried up. Seattle’s bullpen is what they’re known for, with the Mariners having the fifth-best bullpen in the league by ERA. A number that has most likely been inflated within the last month.
New closer Andres Munoz was shaky during August but seems to have regained form. With a bullpen that could’ve used some help before dealing Paul Sewald, the Mariners sometimes find themselves thin. Arms like Trent Thornton and Eduard Bazardo have been disappointing, and I still question why the Mariners even picked up Dominic Leone.
The Mariners still have their gems like Tayler Saucedo, Justin Topa, Gabe Speier, Matt Brash, and Munoz, so I wouldn’t count on their bullpen being cooked by any means. If those guys can right the ship and keep the fringe guys in check, they can go all the way.
2. The Texas Twin’s Strength of Schedule
The Houston Astros and Texas Rangers are the Mariners’ two most significant competitors for the AL West crown. The Mariners once again have to pry it out of Houston’s cold, dead hands, while Texas has fallen off so hard they don’t even hold a playoff spot. Seattle is half a game up on Texas and two and a half behind Houston.
The strength of schedule is a double-edged sword. Texas has some pretty tricky games ahead of them, with four against Toronto, seven against Seattle, and three against Boston being their most difficult matchups. Houston has the more manageable schedule but still has to play three against Baltimore, Arizona, and Seattle.
This also benefits the Mariners, with their toughest matchups being three against Houston and LA and seven against Texas. Houston is yet to win a series against the Mariners in 2023, with the Mariners clinching the season series in their three-game sweep in Houston. They have three against Oakland, who has only managed to beat them once all year, and three against the lowly Angels, who once again find themselves falling off the face of the planet, with their stars being hurt.
1. Septelenic Returns
Jarred Kelenic has been on another level in 2023. He’s already managed his best RBI tally while hitting his second-best amount of home runs in three fewer games than his career-high 93 in 2021. He’s found an improvement with his bat, striking a career-high .252. His corner defense continues to be elite, having the best arm of any Mariners outfielder.
Kelenic looks to continue raking in September. Kelenic hit .500 in September 2021, followed up with .375 in 2022, with six home runs and 13 RBIs. After spending much of the season on the IL, Kelenic returned to the Mariners lineup Monday after killing Triple-A pitching, hitting .306 in 43 at-bats during his rehab stint with the Tacoma Rainiers.
The Mariners’ offense has been sputtering its’ last couple of games, and Kelenic could be the reinforcements they’ve been waiting for, taking some of the workload off the surging Julio Rodriguez.
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