Five Ways The Seattle Mariners Can Insure They Break Their Playoff Drought

With the trading deadline now in the rearview mirror, the sprint to the finish line of the Major League Baseball season has begun. For the first time in a long time, the Seattle Mariners find themselves in the driver’s seat for a playoff position. The Mariners entered play Wednesday in sole possession of the second of the American League’s three wild card spots. However, several other contenders shored up their rosters at the trade deadline, and injuries have begun to take their toll on a team that ran 14 straight wins in July. With their sights set on breaking the longest active postseason drought among the four major U.S professional sports leagues, here are five things the Mariners need to do over the season’s final stretch to make it to the playoffs.

  1. Luis Castillo must shorten games and the pitching rotation: After checking on the possibility of acquiring 23-year-old all-star outfielder Juan Soto from the Nationals, the Mariners decided they would not be able to stay in the sweepstakes to obtain his services. Instead, they pivoted to acquiring pitching help, and pitching help they got. The 29-year-old Castillo was arguably the top starting pitcher on the market, and the Mariners reeled him in from the Cincinnati Reds with a prospect package centered around young shortstop Noelvi Marte, who was the team’s top prospect. It was encouraging for a team that traditionally shies away from paying a high price in buying talent, but with Castillo still under contract for next year, it should be worth it. After a delayed start to the season due to injury, Castillo has been an ace-level workhorse. He has made 14 starts and gone over six innings in ten of them with an ERA of 2.86 and a strikeout to walk ratio of over 3-to-1. With the Mariners’ bullpen starting to look human as of late and the cracks beginning to show on crafty back-of-the-rotation starters Marco Gonzalez and Chris Flexen, Castillo will provide an immediate boost to a team that needs help shortening games and keeping weaker pitchers from getting exposed.
  2. Hope improving at the margins will do enough: While the Mariners made a splash in acquiring Castillo, they didn’t do much else of note. That could come back to bite them. Young superstar Julio Rodriguez is on the injured list with a strained wrist, first baseman Ty France is banged up, utility player Dylan Moore is injured, and outfielder Kyle Lewis isn’t back up to speed after returning from injury; it’s uncertain how much or for how long Mitch Haniger will be able to contribute when he returns from an injury. Without a healthy Rodriguez, the Mariners lineup simply lacks the ability to put fear into other teams. Instead of acquiring an impact bat at the deadline, the Mariners instead chose to make some minor improvements to the bench, first bringing in DH/first baseman Carlos Santana from the Royals earlier in July, then acquiring veteran reserve infielder/outfielder Jake Lamb at the deadline, as well as backup catcher Curt Casali and reliever Matthew Boyd from the San Francisco Giants. None of them came with a high cost, but don’t expect any of them to make a significant impact down the stretch either. Santana has shown the ability to run into one on occasion but doesn’t appear to have much left in the tank. If the Mariners are going to make the playoffs, it will be on the backs of players who were already in the organization with the season started.
  3. Pray to whatever spiritual being you believe in that Julio Rodriguez, Ty France, J.P Crawford, and Eugenio Suarez stay healthy and good: Among that group, Rodriguez is particularly irreplaceable as he has gone from top prospect to face of the franchise since the season has started while the rest of the Mariners outfield corps has fallen on their faces. Meanwhile, France and Suarez have shined at the infield corners. Suarez has done a spot-on impression of the departed Kyle Seager with both the glove and the bat and, while streaky, has made massive contributions to the offense. France has developed into a Gold Glove level first baseman and all-around star at the plate, hitting for power, average, and getting on base. Crawford, in addition to being a wizard with the glove, has proven to be a contributor no matter where the Mariners stick him in the lineup. As a team, the Mariners have generated 14.1 offensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement). Those four players have accounted for 11.9 of that total. The Mariners will need all four to continue to produce to make the playoffs, and without any one of them for a significant length of time will make the task incredibly difficult. 
  4. Survive until August 10 while still being in playoff position: Coming out of the All-Star break, the Mariners play the Houston Astros or the New York Yankees for 13 of 19 games. While the Mariners improved this season, a vast gulf still exists between the Mariners and the two teams with the best records in the American League. In the first 12 games of that 19-game stretch, the Mariners are 2-7 in games against the Astros or Yankees. They did sweep a three-game series against the non-contending Texas Rangers.  Beating up on non-contending teams is where the Mariners’ hope lies because after August 10, the Mariners see neither the Astros nor the Yankees the rest of the regular season, and their schedule is instead loaded with teams that waived the white flag at the trade deadline. If the Mariners can avoid being blown out of the water over the next week, the schedule sets up nicely for them the rest of the way.
  5. Players on the struggle bus will need to improve: The Mariners went shopping for bats at the deadline but determined the potential acquisitions were not good enough or cost too much to acquire. In the case of infield talent, that was almost certainly true. Second baseman Adam Frazier was supposed to be one of the team’s top acquisitions in the offseason. Instead, he has wrestled to the tune of a .244 average, .303 on-base percentage, and negative WAR contribution. If he can figure things out in the second half, he would help provide a very nice cushion because there were not many easily acquirable middle infield improvements to be found at the deadline. Similarly, big things were expected from infielder Abraham Toro and catcher/Designated Hitter Luis Torrens. However, both are in the negative on offensive contributions, and Toro has been surpassed by Dylan Moore and Sam Haggerty on the utility depth chart, while the emergence of Cal Raleigh as a solid everyday catcher has mitigated Torrens struggles somewhat. However, Raleigh physically can’t catch every day, and the Mariners must get something from the position on his off days. There was undoubtedly catching help to be found at the deadline. Still, the Mariners have instead decided to roll with Torrens as the primary backup for now while settling on career backup Casali as the option in the wings in case Torrens doesn’t improve in short order. 

That’s what the Mariners will be hanging their hopes on – grinding their way through the next week and hoping the acquisitions they made are enough to paper over their weaknesses and finally get the team back to the playoffs. What happens if they make it that far? Lady Luck certainly has a lot to say in a short playoff series. However, throughout 162-games, teams make their luck, and the Mariners are about to find out if they have made enough of it. 

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About Ben McCarty 69 Articles
Ben McCarty is a freelance writer and digital media producer who lives in Vancouver. He can usually be found in his backyard with his family, throwing the ball for his dog, or telling incredibly long, convoluted bedtime stories. He enjoys Star Wars, rambling about sports, and whipping up batches of homemade barbeque sauce.