The Seattle Mariners’ Playoff Drought – Will It Finally End?

The 70-win New York Yankees just finished a series against Seattle, the first of two short series between the teams coming off the All-star break. There are well over 50 games left in regular season play, and the Bronx Bombers are on a historic pace. A win total that may reach close to the one at the top of the record books, held by the Mariners in their 116-win 2001 season. Postseason baseball has ceased to exist in Seattle since that season, with many attempts falling just short. This isn’t the only drought the organization has faced since joining as an expansion team in 1977. It took 18 years for the team to clinch the playoffs for the first time, and they have only added three appearances since. Last season gave the Mariners’ faithful their first real sense of playoff hope in 20 years. After falling two games short in 2021, why will this similar feeling season have a better ending? At this point in the season last year, The M’s were a game worse than they currently are now. That squad had just lost a series against the Rangers, who would lose over 100 games that year. This year’s crew is coming off a series win against those red-hot Yankees, all while playing without their two all-stars. 

Comparing the two rosters, you’ll see plenty of similarities. With only an offseason separating the two teams, a majority of the core group is still active. In the infield, you still have Ty France, who is coming off his first All-star appearance. J.P. Crawford is putting up similar numbers from a year ago, and Eugenio Suarez is putting up a comparable season to what Kyle Seager contributed in his farewell tour. So, what’s different about this team that can put them over the edge? 

Well, for starters, a clear sign of difference is in the rotation. Three of the same ones return, with Chris Flexen having another productive year despite the lack of run support. Logan Gilbert is slowly turning into an Ace in his second year in the bigs, commanding a 2.78 ERA. Marco Gonzales is the remaining returner and is on a bit of a slump. In his last appearance, he allowed six runs in just 5 and ⅓ innings. The other two pieces filling out the five-man rotation have been George Kirby and the former Cy Young winner Robbie Ray. Ray has shown that he still has good stuff but has not been able to repeat the level of dominance that he had in Toronto. Kirby is having a great first year, and now the all-star trade piece Luis Castillo will come in to take time away from whoever ends up struggling. Adding Castillo completely upgrades the rotation from last year alone. Not to mention the signs of improvement from Ray. This is a playoff-caliber rotation and could easily do damage in October.

Now, how is the hitting on this team any different? The only all-star for the Mariners in 2021 was Yusei Kikuchi, the starting pitcher who would end 2021 with an above 4.4 ERA. This year, the team’s all-stars are both swinging the bat. Ty France has again shown the league that he’s a premier hitter in baseball, while the emergence of rookie Julio Rogriguez has been the talk of the season. He roams center with the likes of Jesse Winker, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Lewis, and others rotating in the corners. Winker has not been able to keep up the level of production that he had in his previous seasons; he is on a hot streak. He homered on Wednesday at New York, a game that featured four Mariners home runs in a 7-3 victory. Adam Frazier is another new addition to this year’s ball club who played well in New York. He had a two-hit game which brought his total up to .250, much closer to what he has been able to put up in years past. This team also has a few batters who have been highly underrated. The main one to point out is Cal Raleigh, the second-year catcher who has slowly brought his average up over the .200 mark. The switch-hitter also leads catchers in home runs with 16. Veteran trade acquisition Carlos Santana and role player Sam Haggerty have also been essential batters for Seattle. Santana has been the first baseman when France has dealt with injuries and has provided some power for what early on has been a disappointing designated hitter position. Haggerty can play nearly anywhere on the field and has surprised everyone with his .303 batting average. The team has a lot of depth and returns a few of its strongest hitters when they need them most. Last year’s team didn’t have that, resulting in too many close games.

Those close games actually were what helped that 2021 Mariners team the most. Over the year, they went 33-19 in games decided by one run. Much of that was about the elite bullpen, filled with guys who overperformed their expectations. The team’s bullpen finished eighth that year in ERA (3.88). They returned many of those key pieces, but even now, it looks very different. Paul Sewald has continued to pitch well, with Penn Murfee, Diego Castillo, Andres Munoz, and more playing the supporting cast. The current bullpen has an ERA of an improved 3.51 as a collective, good for 10th in the major leagues. No big pieces were added at the deadline, but if the group can keep at this pace, the close games will be beneficial again for this team late in the season. For some parts of last year, the Mariners had a negative run differential despite having a positive record. They currently are positive 21 with the continued bullpen greatness and added production at the plate playing crucial factors. It’s still a long season, and the playoffs are still far from being secured. This year’s team is much more prepared for the upcoming race to the finish line. A young star, a highly-competitive starting rotation, and the “it-factor” is what the 2022 Mariners bring to the table. When the postseason comes around, Seattle should very well expect to see some baseball being played.

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