With their 30th game of the 2020 season Sunday – a 4-1 victory to complete a three-game sweep of the Rangers — the Mariners wrapped up the first half of this weird and shortened 60-game season due to the spread of COVID-19.
Following a day off Monday, they opened the second “half” of the season Tuesday at Petco Park in San Diego.
Obviously, 30 games is a relatively small sample size when it comes to player or team evaluations. But this is what we have in 2020.
Based on the roster, some early injury issues and the organizational philosophy of 2020 being a developmental season as part of the “step-back” rebuild, the Mariners weren’t expected to be a playoff contender. And it was apparent from the first week of the season this wasn’t a playoff-level team.
Seattle finished 11-19 in the first half, which placed it fourth in the American League West, just ahead of the Los Angeles Angels, who have a 9-21 record and were hoping to contend in the division.
With so many young and inexperienced players, the Mariners produced up-and-down performances from game to game, indicative of the roster.
Of all things that have gone right in 2020, it’s been the offensive production of the Kyles – Lewis and Seager — that ranks highest.
While the hype and potential of top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez captured the fascination of Mariners fans, Kyle Lewis, who was once the Mariners’ top prospect, has emerged as a budding superstar and the potential face of the rebuild and organization for years to come. Lewis didn’t just follow up on his call-up last September, when he hit six homers in his first 10 games, he’s come out in 2020 showing improvement with the drive to be a complete player.
A leading candidate for rookie of the year, Lewis ranks. among American League rookie leaders in nearly every offensive category including runs (first, 24), hits (first, 39), home runs (tied for first, seven), RBI (first, 19), walks (first, 18), batting (first, .368), on-base percentage (first, .456), slugging percentage (first, .585), total bases (first, 62), times on base (57) and WAR (first, 2.3).
Meanwhile, Kyle Seager has rejuvenated a career that was starting to slowly stagnate thanks to nagging injuries and decreasing production. After reshaping his body before the 2019 season only to see his season sidetracked with a hand injury, Seager was the Mariners’ best hitter in the final months of the season. He’s carried that success into this season, posting a .291/.377/.515 slash line* with eight doubles, five homers and a team-high 23 RBI. More importantly, Seager has more walks (14) than strikeouts (13).
Since the All-Star break of 2019, Seager has played 98 games, producing a .269/.351/.521 slash line with 21 doubles, a triple, 22 homers and 68 RBI.
Could that lead to a potential trade in the coming days?
The Mariners’ starting pitching has been better than expected despite the injury to Kendall Graveman, who made just two starts. The trio of Marco Gonzales, Taijuan Walker and Justus Sheffield have each made five starts with at least three of them being quality starts.
Gonzales has been steady as expected, but there wasn’t much certainty with Walker considering he’d missed basically the past two seasons due to injury. He’s returned fully healthy with a better understanding of how to pitch, viable secondary pitches and a noticeable maturity. It certainly seems like Walker will be traded in the next five days.
Sheffield’s past three starts have been outstanding, giving the Mariners hope that his switch to a two-seam fastball is a better fit with his natural pitch movement and that will lead to continued pitch efficiency.
The emergence of left-hander Nick Margevicius and the last start of rookie Justin Dunn also are promising developments while Yusei Kikuchi now throws hard on a consistent basis, but his performances are still not consistent.
Also, Austin Nola’s efforts behind the plate and at the plate after being pressed into a full-time catching role and the hitting of Dylan Moore must be praised as well as Evan White’s recent breakout from a nasty slump early in the season that had fans wondering if he was ready to be in MLB.
Injuries are always bad. The Mariners have 11 players on the injured list with varying degrees of maladies. Graveman revealing that he has a benign bone tumor in his neck has forced the Mariners to reconsider possibly exercising a club option for next season. Catcher Tom Murphy and reliever Austin Adams, both expected to be leaders in their respective areas, have yet to play this season. Arm injuries to Gerson Bautista, Erik Swanson and Taylor Guilbeau also are robbing them of big-league innings.
Also Shed Long’s poor start to the season, which includes inconsistency at the plate and in the infield, should be a concern. Long’s .167/.238/.250 slash line with five doubles, a homer, five RBI and 29 strikeouts in 105 plate appearances is abysmal for a guy handed the second base job before the season.
Was there any other choice now that Mallex Smith has been demoted and Daniel Vogelbach has been traded?
It was expected to be bad. It’s been worse – a 5.72 ERA, which is the second worst in the AL and 64 walks issued and 21 homers surrendered, both second most in the AL. The injuries to Adams and the delayed start to Yoshihisa Hirano’s season have been factors. Over the past five games, the bullpen has been better. But given the turnover and the inexperience, it will surely be the team’s weakest aspect in the final 30 games.
*batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage)
Editor’s note: The Times declined to send reporter Ryan Divish to San Diego for this game because of COVID-19 safety concerns.