When the Mariners return home from the upcoming six-game road trip, which features a three-game series on Chicago’s South Side vs. the White Sox followed by a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays in their south-side ballpark located in Buffalo, they will have played 82 games in the 2021 season.
And whether they go 6-0, 0-6 or more likely 3-3 or 2-4, they will still have exceeded most expectations of success.
Following the recent nine-game homestand where they went 7-2, including a four-game sweep of the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays, who were leading the American League East at the time, the Mariners go into the road trip with a 39-37 record.
“It’s been a great homestand. We’ve played very good baseball; we’ve gotten a ton of clutch performances at the plate and on the mound,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It’s lot of stuff to feel good about and hopefully build upon going forward.
“But I’ll go back to what I said at the beginning of the year: I felt our club was going to continue to get better as the season progressed, you know as players gain more experience or confidence or they settled into roles in the bullpen, whatever it is going to be. I thought we would play better as the season goes on. I say that we’re not at the halfway point yet. We’re close. But I like the way we’re trending. We are building a ton of confidence that should help play out through the remainder of the season.”
The idea of this team being two games over .500 this late into the season seemed improbable on May 23 when it had lost six in a row that included being swept by the lowly Detroit Tigers at home and the San Diego Padres, which showcased the massive talent discrepancy between a franchise finishing off its rebuild and the other still figuring out when it truly expects to be good. At 21-26, they had been no-hit twice in two weeks and were slashing .184/.264/.334 over the last 20 games and were the worst hitting team in all of baseball.
There was also the stretch on the previous road trip where they lost six of eight games and fell to fourth place in the American League West with a 31-35 record.
But is this recent success for real?
The numbers say it isn’t.
The Mariners still have a negative run differential, scoring only 304 runs while giving up 352.
Their record in one-run games — 14-7 — is the best in baseball, but it’s also indicative of a strong bullpen and timely hitting. The Mariners have a .270/.337/.467 slash line with runners in scoring position. The bullpen, after losing three pitchers due to COVID quarantining, has rebounded to be a major difference.
The road trip against a strong White Sox team that is 44-30 and leading the American League Central and a Blue Jays team that is 37-35 (and not playing at home because of COVID rules) and the upcoming homestand that features the Yankees and Angels could provide a greater indicator of this team’s viability moving forward.
Then again, the Mariners have yet to put their best possible lineup on the field for more than a couple of games this season because of injuries to Kyle Lewis, Evan White, Ty France and the struggles of Jarred Kelenic.
The looming trade deadline could also change the roster in a negative way if the Mariners decide to move Mitch Haniger, Kendall Graveman or possibly Kyle Seager.
“We need to stay healthy,” Servais said. That has been a huge challenge for not only us, but many teams in the league and some of that you need a little luck to keep guys healthy and keep the ball rolling in a positive direction. Some of it you just can’t control, but that is the key — keeping guys healthy, keeping them strong.
“I think we’re in a really good head space right now about individual guys, what they’re focused on, how they’re focused on getting better each day. And we’re seeing the results starting to play out.”