DENVER — Seven games over the next seven days — four vs. the A’s and three vs. the Astros — likely will determine the fate of the 2021 Mariners as they are viewed upon by the front office and presently constructed.
With a 51-45 record, this team has exceeded mathematical and “expert” expectations and perhaps even those of the franchise’s front office.
After a disappointing loss to the Rockies on Wednesday to cap a 3-2 road trip out of the break, the Mariners sit 3 1/2 games back of the A’s for the second wild card spot with the Blue Jays and Yankees also within reach of Oakland.
It might seem a little early to be looking at the standings of the wild card race, but there is a reason for it. The Mariners, specifically general manager Jerry Dipoto and team chair John Stanton, have to decide whether they want to be buyers, sellers or observers with MLB’s trade deadline looming July 30.
While Dipoto will never commit to being in one of those categories, saying that he will do what’s best for the team, MLB sources have said that the front office will use results of this seven-game homestand to determine an overall philosophy about adding or subtracting from the team.
If Seattle goes 5-2 or 4-3 with three wins over the A’s, the team could make a significant move to add another right-handed bat and a proven starting pitcher while also not trading any players off the roster in the hopes of prospect return.
If the team struggles and loses three of four to Oakland and continues to find ways to lose to the Astros, it’s likely that closer Kendall Graveman, relievers J.T. Steckenrider and Paul Sewald, suddenly hot-hitting catcher Luis Torrens and other players are traded for the right return.
The market for Mitch Haniger, who hit his 23rd home run of the season Wednesday, has yet to develop into what was expected. MLB sources said the Mariners asking price remains higher than anticipated, and there has been minimal interest. Of course, that could change in the next seven days.
While they aren’t privy to the front office conversations and strategy, the coaches and players in the clubhouse know what’s at stake.
“All these games, all these homestands and road trips, they’re all big,” manager Scott Servais said. “And that’s what you play all year for, so that these games mean something here as we’re getting into July, August, September.”
Some of the Mariners have been in this sort of position before, including late last season, but this will be different. They are playing not just for the playoffs but to keep the team intact and force ownership to make it stronger.
“We have to treat them the same,” Haniger said. “Prepare well, come to the field, expecting to win and preparing to win. We’ve got two good teams coming in. It’s gonna be fun weekend. At the same time, every single game you play, no matter whether you’re playing a contender or not, these games are big. A win is a win so no matter who we’re playing, you go out there with the same intention of winning the ballgame with each player doing their job individually.”
The Mariners saw a spike in attendance during the series vs. the Angels just before the All-Star break. Though the draw of the spectacle that is Shohei Ohtani was part of it. But these will be the most important games the Mariners have played thus far.
“We’re coming home, and I think our fans are excited to get in the ballpark,” Servais said. “It’s been a while since we played at home. We had the All-Star break and then you start on the road so our guys looking forward to getting back and sleeping in their own beds.”