If you read that blog post I scripted six months ago that basically wrote off the Mariners due to losing out on the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, citing him as the overly-crucial piece to pushing this team over the hill and ending their playoff drought, do me a favor: Find that article, crumple it into a ball, and burn it in a fire. Then get out a new piece of paper and write out three simple words.
Who Needs Him.
This 2018 Mariners ballclub is more than just competitive. They’re lethal.
Ohtani on the other hand, had his few weeks of glory, but has now more than spiraled back down to earth, going 3 for his last 25 (.120 average) and 10 for his last 69 (.169 average) at the plate, producing just one multi-hit game since May 11.
But enough about Ohtani. His team is 7.5 games back and that guy won’t be seeing a big-league mound (or possibly even the field) anytime soon, as he is currently sitting on the DL with a sprained UCL with reports looming that he may need Tommy John surgery.
Ok look, the M’s (44-24) likely are not actually on the same level of talent as the Houston Astros, despite the current AL West standings. Their run differential for the year is +27, which is 28 fewer than the LA Dodgers (34-32) and eight less than that of the Cleveland Indians (35-30). Houston’s is +130 which leads all of baseball by a substantial margin.
In other words, the Astros score a lot of runs. On top of that, they have two starting pitchers who are in the frontrunning for the AL Cy Young Award (Justin Verlander, Gerit Cole) with the trio behind them honing the capability to throw like a No. 1 of any MLB staff on every fifth day (Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton).
But that’s by no means to say the Mariners won’t continue to stay scorching hot. It’s no secret at this point that they have been crowned baseball’s king of one-run wins this year, going 21-9 in contests decided by a lone tally. And while many think that can’t be sustained (and maybe it can’t to some extent) don’t believe for a second that this ballclub is going to fold and get crushed by an avalanche after the All-Star Break.
First off, perhaps the greatest reason the team has been so successful in one-run ballgames is because they have a right-handed flamethrower by the name of Edwin Díaz (you may have heard of him at this point) who has put his name in the debate for the game’s best closer. His league-leading 25 saves can often be regarded as a flawed stat, but his 14.5 Strikeouts per 9 (4th among relievers), 0.86 WHIP and .156 Bating Average Against are nothing that can be refuted. The numbers would be even lower had it not been for one rocky outing in a non-save situation against Texas where he probably never should have been in the game in the first place due to being overused on previous nights.
But that last part is beside the point. As long as Díaz’s workload is managed properly for the remainder of the year, he’s showing no signs of slowing down with his 100-mph heater complemented by what may be the nastiest slider on the planet.
And the supporting cast to Eddie that makes up the rest of the bullpen? All they did was sport the lowest bullpen ERA in the majors during the month of May, at one point combining to go 27 consecutive innings without surrendering an earned run. To make matters better on top of that, they went out and added Alex Colomé, who has more saves than anyone over the span of the last two seasons, to be their setup man in the eighth.
Like the old saying goes, pitching and defense wins games, and the area of concern that had fans biting their nails all offseason is now in the rearview mirror.
Outside of Felix Hernandez (because that will take a blog post in itself that I may or may not write) the Mariners starting rotation has taken the AL by storm. At this point the baseball world knows what James Paxton is capable of, highlighted in 2018 by a no-hitter in his native country and a 16-strikeout performance at Safeco Field. His X factor has always been health, but he has shown no signs of lethargy or pain this season, which is a positive signal.
But Paxton’s numbers were never the concern, and to that point, Mike Leake really wasn’t either. Despite his rough patch in April and early May, he has been flat-out dominant over his last five starts. The two pitchers that have made the most significant strides and deserve a truck load credit for keeping the rotation rock-solid are Wade LeBlanc and Marco Gonzales.
LeBlanc was asked to fill the No. 5 spot in place of the injured Erasmo Ramirez and has run away with that job. While he seldomly goes deep in games, he has allowed more than a pair of earned runs just once since moving into the rotation and has allowed a run or less on three separate occasions.
Gonzales has quickly started to sway fans into his corner after a vast Seattle contingent was incredibly unhappy that the team gave up their No. 2 prospect in Tyler O’Neill for him. But Marco is proving his doubters wrong, showing why he was once a first round draft pick. He has allowed just three earned in his last 33.1 innings and spun four straight quality starts before Wednesday. His command to his pitchers and bite to his off speed has really taken a turn recently, getting the better of American League lineups. Heck, the argument is there that Gonzales has been the second-best starter on the club, which is a shot in the arm Seattle desperately needed.
All that put together: this rotation is broadening its shoulders and letting their voice be heard.
The offense was expected to anchor this team, and while that has now fallen into the hands of the pitching, they have still followed suit. Nelson Cruz is finally healthy and back to his usual ways. Dee Gordon is a catalyst in the leadoff spot and in the dugout firing people up. Ben Gamel is hitting .300. Ryon Healy is hot, Heredia has become a reliable everyday player.
Then there is Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger who have just about made everyone forget about all the awful Seattle trades of the past due to their play. Segura leads baseball in Hits and is second in batting average, and Haniger has made Scott Servais and crew forget about Robinson Cano. After a slight adjustment period in May, he has taken the three hole in the lineup by storm with his 16 bombs and his .876 OPS.
While they struggled to push across runners in May, the month of June has been very kind to them offensively, already scoring five or more runs six times for the month.
So the bottom line: the team is clicking from every point, firing on all cylinders. They hold the third best record in baseball. They are 20 games over for the first time since Aug. 24, 2007 when Beautiful Girls by Sean Kingston was America’s top hit (per a tweet from Mariners beat writer Ryan Divish). Finally, they are ready to roll into the summer with high aspirations and their ultimate goal within reach.
Will they remain atop the AL West all season? That remains to be seen, Houston sure isn’t going to roll over and die. But with a 7.5 game cushion of a playoff spot and the squad playing its hottest and strongest baseball of this decade, let me say the following.
Get out your earbuds and play whatever song hypes yourself up after wins (Winner by Jaime Foxx, All I Do is Win by DJ Khaled, My oh My by Macklemore. Even if you want a throwback, In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins). Because the Mariners are coming, and they sure are fun to watch these days. The Autumn Seattle breeze is sniffing postseason play and that egregious number 17 is looking as if its ready to fall.