While it may not feel like spring outside, baseball season is indeed right around the corner. Just as flowers bloom every spring, each year brings new hope for Seattle Mariners fans that their team will finally reach the World Series. Last year the Mariners broke a 21-year playoff drought and won a Wild Card series against the Toronto Blue Jays before being swept by the Houston Astros in the Division Round. With the core of last year’s team returning, there is plenty of reason to hope this year could be better than last. Here are five reasons why the 2023 Seattle Mariners could improve on the success of last year’s team.
The most exciting player to put on a Mariners uniform since Ken Griffey Jr. J-Rod easily took home Rookie of the Year honors after a season that saw him hit. 284, launched 28 home runs, and put up 6.2 WAR. He received a silver slugger award for his offensive exploits, made the all-star game as a rookie, and played above-average defense in centerfield. As long as Rodriguez is on the field, the Mariners have a Top 10 player in the game in their lineup. While there are certainly limits to what one or two players can bring to a baseball team, Rodriguez will be exciting to watch for years to come.
The Mariners have perfected the art form of grabbing hard-throwing relievers out of the garbage bin and turning them into shut-down relievers. Last year the team ranked fourth best in major league baseball in allowing inherited runners to score. When the team needed to hold a lead, one of many power arms in the bullpen could be counted on to shut down the opposition. It is a trend that has been ongoing for several years now, so while the faces may change, the end result remains the same: zeros on the scoreboard when the bullpen enters the fray. This year’s crop of relievers is highlighted by Andres Munoz, who can touch nearly 105 mph with his fastball and will likely get the first crack at being the team’s closer. However, if manager Scott Servais wants to continue his closer-by-committee approach from the last several seasons, there are plenty of options to mix and match as needed over the final few innings of a game, including Matt Brash, Penn Murfee, Paul Sewald, Trevor Gott, and Diego Castillo.
The Starting Rotation
The Mariners starting rotation may be among the best in baseball this season. Already a strong group at the start of last season, the team added all-star Luis Castillo at the trading deadline, and rookie Georgy Kirby made his debut partway through the season. Both proved indispensable to the team during its playoff run, and both will be vitally important again this year. The rotation figures to be, in order, Castillo, Logan Gilbert, Kirby, Robbie Ray, and then one of either Marco Gonzales or Chris Flexen. Gilbert was a formidable workhorse last in his first full season, starting 32 games and pitching to a 116 ERA+. While Ray didn’t quite live up to his building as the 2021 Cy Young award winner, as a fourth starter that can occasionally reach ace-like levels when he is rolling, he is an incredible luxury for any team to have. When combined with a stellar bullpen, the Mariners’ pitching staff as a whole is in the discussion for best overall in baseball.
The Infield Cornerstones
The Mariners return four of the five members of their starting infield from a year ago. Ty France is back at first base, J.P Crawford at shortstop, Eugenio Suarez at third base, and Cal Raleigh at catcher. France has turned into a sold defensive penchant with a knack for hitting for a solid average with moderate power as well as getting on base through getting hit by pitches. That last ability cost him last season as a wrist injury knocked him out of the lineup and then through his swing out of whack during the second half of the season. Saurez plays solid defense and can absolutely launch a baseball. Crawford may not contribute much with the bat regularly, but as long as he contributes positively on defense, anything he brings offensively is a bonus. Raleigh emerged onto the scene last year, hitting for prodigious power and proving to be a perfect handler for the team’s pitching staff. He’s already a Mariners legend for hitting a walk-off home run to clinch a playoff spot for the team. He could be a candidate for regression this season, and it will be up to the Mariners’ coaching staff to make sure they don’t work him into the ground. Hopefully, the return of veteran Tom Murphy from injury should allow them to give Raleigh a few rest days.
The Hopeful Emergence Of Jarred Kelenic
There is no time like the present for the former uber-prospect to break out, and make no mistake, the Mariners are betting big on him doing so. During the offseason, the team could have easily added another outfielder through trade or free agency and moved on from Kelenic after two up-and-down seasons that have featured several demotions to the minor leagues and have yet to see him crack the Mendoza line at the plate. However, they chose not to do that. Instead, the team brought in a pair of veterans in AJ Pollock and Toscar Hernandez, who both figure to see as much playing time at designated hitter as they do in the outfield. That leaves plenty of playing time in the outfield, and Kelenic is likely first in line to claim it. He reportedly has spent the offseason fine-tuning changes to his swing, and if he can put it all together, the Mariners could have quite the dynamic duo in Rodriguez and Kelenic.