At 5-8 through the first 13 games this season, Seattle Mariner fans might wish their team got off to a hotter start after finally breaking their postseason drought last year.
The season started off well enough, defeating the Cleveland Guardians 3-0 on Opening Day, but it’s been relatively downhill since. They would lose the next three in that series before losing two of three against the Los Angeles Angels to round out their first homestand with a 2-5 record. Their first road trip of the season would consist of three more games in Cleveland, of which they won the first two. After losing the final game of the series, they would move on to Chicago and play the Cubs. The first loss was a brutal extra-inning 3-2 defeat, where Matt Brash allowed the winning run to score in the 10th. Game two was similarly disheartening, with the Mariners going up 7-0 in the second only to eventually lose 14-9. They managed to end the series on a good note, winning 5-2 and giving themselves a day off before they returned home.
There’s a good amount of pain to talk about with this team, and it all hinges on the bullpen and their generally lackluster appearances so far. While the starters have generally left the team in a position to win, it feels like the relief staff cannot be given the same level of trust. Paul Sewald is who he’s always been, and Andres Munoz is still electric (though he’s been placed on the injured list). New additions Trevor Gott and Gabe Speier have both looked solid as well, but beyond that, it gets sketchy. Brash has now allowed four runs in six innings, including multiple game-blowing situations. Diego Castillo’s five runs allowed ties for second-highest on the entire pitching staff behind Chris Flexen. In the last few days of the bullpen being taxed due to consecutive extra-inning games, the Mariners have been forced to shuffle guys up and down from the minor leagues to keep fresh arms available. Hopefully, the stress dials down a bit while the Mariners get a much-needed rest and we can get a better idea of who is expected to carry the bullpen in the coming homestand.
A more easily noticeable downside is the black hole of offense outside of six guys. Sure, having six competent hitters in the batting lineup is generally a positive, but the non-existent depth means that, if anything happens, they don’t have any meaningful ways to recover. Being generous and including J.P. Crawford in the pool of competent hitters, the back end of the order and bench is filled with Cooper Hummel (hitting 2-for-18), Tom Murphy (1-for-16), AJ Pollock (3-for-15), Sam Haggerty (2-for-14) and Tommy La Stella (1-for-13). With slight exception given to Haggerty for being a super-utilityman, the rest generally rotate throughout the Designated Hitter (DH) spot, which they simply aren’t good at. Hummel is likely the first man down when Dylan Moore eventually gets healthy. Murphy’s abysmal hitting and bad defense means Cal Raleigh isn’t getting the breaks that a catcher needs to lessen the load on their knees. Pollock and La Stella are being used as “platoon” pinch-hitters, although neither can hit any handedness, so it doesn’t matter anyways. In the current MLB environment, it is a fundamental flaw if a team can’t find a way to make positive use of the DH spot.
Doom-and-gloom attitude aside, let’s talk about Jarred Kelenic. The former top prospect struggled for his first two years in the bigs, but he’s all business in 2023. Currently on a seven-game hitting streak, Kelenic is second on the team in batting average with .351 and leads the team in OPS with 1.118. What’s more, he finished the road trip by homering in every game of the Chicago series, including a 482-foot bomb to dead center field on April 12. That was the longest Mariner home run recorded since at least 2015, as well as the longest home run hit at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in that same time frame. He’s joining Julio Rodriguez, Ty France, Eugenio Suarez and newcomer Teoscar Hernandez as the true studs within this lineup, expected to carry the bulk of the offense going forward.
There is still plenty of baseball left to go, and the Mariners should still be aiming for a deep playoff run. They certainly have the tools to get there, but changes will need to be made in order to create an improved roster that can take them all the way.