By Patrick Rogers | Oregon Sports News
At the beginning of the year, the Mariners and our fans were settled in for another playoff run. Through 80 games, the Mariners struggled to get to .500, with a record of 38-42. With the All-Star break and trade deadline looming, Mariners fans were eager to see President Jerry Dipoto make some moves to strengthen the team. However, the front office decided to trade away closer Paul Sewald and acquired numerous minor-league players. Impact players like CJ Cron and Jeimer Candelario went to other teams, and the Mariners were left without making instant impact trades. Moving forward after the All-Star break, suddenly, the Mariners are ripping off winning streaks. With 35 games left, the Mariners are battling with the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros for the division lead. Let’s take a look at how the Mariners can win the division.
New Aces and Saving Bases
The Mariners have featured a fantastic group of pitchers this year. Even though Paul Sewald was traded, the pitching staff has caught every step. George Kirby and Logan Gilbert have spearheaded the rotation, rather than Luis Castillo and Robbie Ray. Kirby leads the team in pitching Wins Above Replacement at 3.0 and has done it by walking only 14 batters in 156.1 innings pitched. Gilbert has been similarly stingy with free bases, walking only 27 batters in 148 innings pitched. Matt Brash and Justin Topa have been the most effective relievers. Brash is one of the best relievers in the league this year, and he’s done it by missing bats with his mind-bending curveball and overpowering fastball (99th strikeout percentile and 98th Whiff % percentile).
Highlighting these pitchers makes you wonder how the overall staff holds up against the league. To no surprise, they may be the best pitching staff across all of baseball. The Mariners are first in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) at 3.74, first in WHIP (Walks Plus Hits per Inning Pitched) at 1.176, first in walks per nine at 2.5, second in runs allowed per nine at 4.01, and fifth in ERA+ at 110. It’s also worth noting the defense behind the pitchers. Overall, the team is ninth in defensive runs, saved at 25 runs. This means the team’s defense has saved them 25 runs over the year, which will come into play in those one-run games going into the playoff run. Star outfielder Julio Rodríguez (12 Outs Above Average) and surprisingly effective José Caballero (6 Outs Above Average) have been the impact players fielding those batted balls. For a pitching staff to be successful, they have to have a great defense behind them.
Schedule and Park Factors
Including Wednesday’s game versus the Chicago White Sox, the Mariners have 35 games left on the schedule. Thirty days ago, according to Baseball Reference, the Mariners had about a 12% chance to make the playoffs. Fast forward to today, and they have over a 70% chance to make the playoffs, with a 45% chance to win the division. How did this happen? The Mariners went on an 18-4 run, including a sweep of the Houston Astros. For the rest of the year, 15 of the last 35 games are versus sub-.500 teams, including three total series against the Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals. The last ten games will be the most crucial. The Mariners start with a series in Texas versus the Rangers, then close out the year at home for the final seven games versus the Astros and the Rangers. This could not have worked out better because coupling the Mariner’s great pitching is their pitcher-friendly park. Since the 2021 season, T-Mobile Park has the worst park factor (93), meaning the combination of the stadium’s dimensions and weather play into the hands of the pitcher. At 93, this means this stadium sees 7% less runs than the average stadium. Coupling the defense, pitching, and stadium factor, Seattle will hold their destiny in the final home stretch.
Looking at all of the factors above, the Mariners are in a great spot to make the playoffs and seal the AL West for the first time since 2001. With their pitching, easy schedule, and T-Mobile Park’s stingy dimensions and weather, the Mariners won’t be bothered with a Wild Card berth.