Kevin Cash’s ability to take a team that qualified for the World Series in 2020 and lead it to the American League’s best record in 2021 (100-62), despite the loss of starters Blake Snell and Charlie Morton, mattered more than the Mariners’ unexpected success in 2021, under Scott Servais, outperforming expectations and projections in their best season since 2003.
During a Tuesday special on MLB Network, Tampa Bay’s Cash was named the 2021 American League Manager of the Year by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. It was the second straight season that Cash took home the award.
Cash garnered 19 first-place votes, three second-place votes and five third-place votes for a total of 109 points. Servais finished second with 71 points, earning five first-place votes, 13 second-place votes and seven third-place votes. Dusty Baker of the Astros was third. with 33 points, getting two first-place votes, five second-place votes and eight third-place votes.
In his sixth season as the Mariners manager, Servais led a relatively inexperienced team that defied preseason prognostications from baseball insiders and sabermetric projections.
While most “experts” had the Mariners finishing third or fourth in the American League West with a losing record and FanGraphs ZIPs projections system predicting a 73-89 record and Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projecting a 70-92 record, the Mariners finished second in the division with a 90-72 record. Seattle went into the final game of the regular season with a chance of forcing a one-game playoff and potentially earning one of two wild-card spots, which would’ve snapped a postseason drought dating back to 2001.
The 90 wins was the most in a season since 2003. The Mariners did it despite an offense heavily reliant on the first four hitters in the lineup and a starting rotation riddled with injuries and inconsistency. Veteran starter James Paxton was lost for the season in the second inning of his first start while youngsters Justin Dunn and Justus Sheffield, both members of the opening-day roster, made 25 combined starts.
Using a bullpen of largely unknown relievers with no set roles, the Mariners excelled in one-run games, posting a 33-19 record. They also had 14 extra-inning victories, which tied a franchise record.
“It speaks volumes to where we’ve come as an organization,” Servais said in an interview after being named a finalist. “For me, from what our players, our coaching staff and our front office, what we were able to overcome and accomplish this year, I think it says a lot for all those people. Anytime you’re a finalist or you win any of these types of awards, it’s the group around you that really gives you the opportunity to experience something like this.”
The low point of the season for the Mariners came late in May. After being no-hit twice in the span of 10 days and losing a handful of relievers to COVID-19 protocols, they fell to 21-26 on May 23 following a sweep by the Padres and getting outscored 31-7.
Servais held a meeting after that Sunday game to reassess what they were trying to accomplish. From there, the Mariners posted a 69-46 record.
Over the club’s final 48 games, the Mariners went 31-17 (.646), good for the best record in the AL during that span (Aug. 11-Oct. 3).
During his time with the Mariners, Servais has 438 managerial wins and a .503 winning percentage, both second best in franchise history, trailing only Lou Piniella.