July has now come and gone for the Seattle Mariners, but the team’s action and transactions haven’t exactly been laid back. From Jerry Dipoto wheeling and dealing per usual, to Robinson Cano hitting the go ahead homer and winning MVP in the All-Star Game, the M’s have had a lot on their plate.
They finished the month with an even 13-13 record, and are currently sitting one game over .500 at 54-53 after winning two of three in Texas to start the month of August.
In July, there was much positive and a fair portion of negative to take away (but hey, that the M’s for you). They did not get off to a hot start, getting swept at home by the Royals and only splitting a home series with the AL-worst Oakland Athletics. Two of those six losses were due to blown opportunities by the bullpen. Seattle sat at a gloomy 41-46 at the end of the Royals series.
The pitching staff that had been loosely glued together for most of the first half looked as if it was starting to come undone, with the exception of James Paxton, who was finally starting to find his early season form when July rolled around. Ariel Miranda started to get hit hard. Sam Gaviglio couldn’t work himself out of big jams and minimize damage the way he had been doing through his first handful of starts. Felix Hernandez was just starting to work his way back after recovering from shoulder bursitis, and there was much question as to whether he could still be effective.
But after the All Star Break, the Mariners started to kick it into high gear. They went on to win four of their final five series for the month, including a sweep on the road against the White Sox. Nelson Cruz went back to hitting home runs in bunches after going a month without one. Felix started to find his groove again. Ben Gamel and Jean Segura continued to stay atop the American League in batting average, and the pieces started to fall into place.
Jerry Dipoto saw this as an opportunity to be somewhat of a buyer at the trade deadline. He acquired David Phelps, an effective inning eating, hard throwing right hander from the Marlins. Phelps has given them a sturdy 7th inning reliever to pave the bridge between the starter, and the ever-dependable Nick Vincent and Edwin Diaz at the back end of the bullpen. Since 2016, only 14 relievers have thrown over 100 innings while posting an ERA below 2.70. One of them being David Phelps, who among those 14, is 5th in strikeouts in the last two seasons.
He also traded for Erasmo Ramirez to come back to Seattle and be a back-end starter for the club, with the team still lacking starting pitching. Ramirez was very disappointing in his first stint with the Mariners, but had an ERA under 4 in two seasons as a starter with the Rays. While his 2017 campaign hasn’t been phenomenal, with him posting a 4.80 ERA while splitting time as a starter and long reliever in Tampa, he will look to turn things back around in his reunion in the Pacific Northwest.
But the most substantial trade: one that didn’t even involve Major League caliber players. The Mariners traded minor league outfielder Tyler O’Neill in exchange for left handed starter Marco Gonzales from the Cardinals, who is a former first round pick.
O’Neill was the Mariners number two prospect, is just 22 years old, and has power that has been compared to Yankees rookie sensation Aaron Judge (per Fangraphs). While that comparison may be stretching it a little bit, a fair share of Seattle was not happy to see him depart, with many expecting him to be a 30 homer type of player down the road.
The hope is that Gonzales can be a cornerstone of the pitching staff in the near future, as he is a guy who has Major League experience as a starter, and also has five years of club control in his contract. But Gonzales is coming off Tommy John surgery from 2016 and the injury prone side of his arsenal is a worry. Nevertheless, Dipoto has said that Gonzales will likely be up with the club in the next few weeks.
For now, the pitching staff consists of James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Ariel Miranda, Yovani Gallardo, and Erasmo Ramirez. Andrew Moore and Sam Gaviglio were sent back to Tacoma.
In Dipoto’s eyes, the pieces are in place. But will it be enough? The bullpen is currently the best in baseball, and as a whole had a fantastic month of July, ranking 1st in baseball in bullpen ERA. I personally feel that they are one solid starter short, but there was not much the team could do with the top-of-the-line pitchers on the market, such as Sonny Gray and Yu Darvish, being too expensive. At the very least, it would have cost the Mariners their top prospect in outfielder Kyle Lewis, who has potential to be a perennial All Star once he is MLB ready. However, more likely than not, more would have had to be coughed up with Lewis due to the asking price of those pitchers by their respective teams.
From August and on, this is the hand we’ve been dealt. This is the team. It won’t change drastically in the next two months. But that’s not to say they can’t make a run. As I mentioned, 1.5 games is well within striking distance, and with a four game series this weekend against the Royals, who currently hold the second Wild Card spot, it is very possible that Seattle will make up more ground.
But the consistency factor has to stay put. They been very consistent since coming out of the break, but they can’t afford to have another losing streak, or frankly, go below .500 again. Time is not on their side. The season is winding down. They have to continue to trend upward if they look to end the season with a Wild Card berth, and a key factor will be the Royals series. It could end up being the most important series of the season.
Until the late afternoon on October 1st, we as fans can do nothing but sit back, watch the games, and pray that the 16-year playoff drought comes to an end.
Player of the Month: While two Mariners racked up awards, I don’t think there is anyone more deserving on the team, or in the league than James Paxton. Paxton won AL pitcher of the month and became the first Mariner in franchise history to win 6 games in a month, all while posting a 1.37 ERA, while striking out 44 batters in those six starts, and walking just six. Opponents hit just .182 off him. Honorable mention goes to Edwin Diaz, who won AL reliever of the month, grasping 8 saves while putting up a 1.98 ERA and 21 strikeouts in July. He has bounced back beautifully since regaining the closer role.