On the final off day of the 2023 MLB season, the Seattle Mariners are a half-game out of the lead in the AL West and tied with the Texas Rangers for the final American League wild-card spot. Pending the outcomes of Thursday night’s games (column filed prior to games), the Mariners could head into the weekend tied for first place in the AL West. After 152 games, the season will come down to the final ten games, all of them against their direct competition in the division – the aforementioned Rangers seven times and the Houston Astros three times. Most of these confrontations will occur in front of friendly home fans, but the first three will begin this weekend in Arlington, TX, against the Rangers.
The Mariners have cooled off late after a torrid 21-6 August. September has seen the Mariners play .421 baseball to the tune of an 8-11 record. The Rangers, who make up seven of the Mariners’ last ten contests, haven’t fared much better, posting a 9-10 record this month. The Astros, seeking to become the first back-to-back World Series Champions since the 1998, 1999, and 2000 New York Yankees, have been equally mediocre in September with an 8-10 record. Continue playing sub-.500 baseball, and the postseason could end up being a lost opportunity for any one of these three teams.
Disturbing trends for the Mariners include a tiring rotation and bullpen and the cooling off of some essential bats. Arguably the team’s best hitter and superstar in the making, Julio Rodriguez has followed up a ridiculous .429/.474/.724, 7 homer August with an equally impressive, but closer to human, .277/.318/.602, 7-homer September, so far. The rest of the lineup must keep pace to pick up the slack after Rodriguez’s Bondsian performance powered the Mariners in August.
The pitching staff that led the majors in fWAR for much of the season has recently slipped to second behind the Philadelphia Phillies, so still first in the AL. The slippage, however slight, can be attributed to a September in which they rank 20th in fWAR. While still ranking 12th in baseball in ERA and 19th in FIP in the majors for September, the arms race has definitely sputtered compared to the overall performance this season, first in ERA and second in FIP.
More specifically, the bullpen, which for all teams can prove to be the most volatile year to year, has been spectacular throughout the season, ranking fifth in the majors in fWAR, fourth in ERA, and third in FIP. September has not been nearly so kind. The Mariners bullpen ranks next to last in the majors in fWAR, 16th in ERA, but 29th in FIP. In other words, the defense has been propping up a pretty shaky September bullpen just to manage a sub-.500 month.
The eventual outcome of the season is totally in the Mariners’ hands. Beat Texas, beat Houston, and back-to-back playoff appearances are in the bag. Lose, and spend the offseason pondering what might have been coming off a spectacular Summer. Buckle up, Mariners fans.