As the Seattle Mariners exit the All-Star break and begin the second half of the season, it’s important to gauge where they are in terms of playoff probability. With a 45-44 record, they are six games behind the Texas Rangers for division lead and four games back of the third wild card spot, currently held by a tie between the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays.
However, context is important, and over a sample of 162 games, you will see fluctuations between team performances throughout the season. The Mariners are a prime example of that. They have spent just about the entire season below a .500 record, at one point losing seven straight games when they were at exactly a .500 record with a chance to go above it. It was just a couple of weeks ago that they lost two of three games to the Washington Nationals, who currently hold the fourth-worst record in baseball. But since then, they have taken two of three from the AL-leading Tampa Bay Rays, two of three from the NL Wild Card San Francisco Giants and three of four from the division rival Houston Astros. By all accounts, they took positive momentum into the All-Star break.
While the Mariners are trending up, there are important teams around them trending downwards that are even more significant. The aforementioned Rays and Rangers are both 3-7 in their last ten games, opening up their respective divisions to be taken over by a different team. The Rays in particular featured a seven-game losing streak. The Los Angeles Angels are perhaps the most unfortunate team in baseball, losing countless players to injury and falling below .500 just before the break.
With the stage set, it’s up to the Mariners to build off their success in the last couple of weeks. In the month of July, they are third in the league in batting Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and fifth in the league in Weighted Runs Created (wRC+), both stats used to consolidate a team or player’s performance into one number. The pitching has predictably remained dominant. They boast the fifth-highest pitching WAR in the majors in July, and have a league-leading 1.82 Earned Run Average (ERA).
The bats have seemingly regressed to the mean, at least in areas that benefit the team. Julio Rodriguez has been ramping up since his poor start to the season, a trend that continued into his second consecutive All-Star Game appearance. J.P. Crawford is somehow slugging .639 in July. The real boons, however, have come from more unexpected players. Teoscar Hernandez, the new Mariner acquisition who has shown signs of what he’s capable of, has cut his strikeout rate in July down to a very respectable 17.5 percent, while upping his walk rate to a ridiculous 12.5 percent. If that discipline remains intact, he could be unstoppable. Eugenio Suarez has been slugging out of his mind in July, though he still strikes out quite a lot. However, the story everybody wants to hear is of Mike Ford, who has been one of the best players in baseball the last two weeks. He went 4-5 on July 4th, also his birthday, with two doubles and a home run. His .414 batting average in July has rocketed his season average up to .282, the highest mark by far since his rookie year. Out of left field, he has been a stud at the plate.
This month has featured two Logan Gilbert starts so far, allowing one run in sixteen innings of work, including a complete game shutout against the Giants. George Kirby and Luis Castillo have remained excellent. Bryan Woo has finally settled into a nice rhythm, boasting a 2.25 ERA over his two starts in July. The only remaining question is whether or not Bryce Miller is ready to return, having missed his last start due to injury.
There’s a lot of season left to play, and it’s easy to foresee the Mariners holding a playoff spot after Game 162 so long as they keep up what has made them successful in recent weeks.