The Seattle Mariners’ Hot Start Should Not Be Undermined

The Seattle Mariners own the biggest playoff drought in North American sports (they haven’t made the playoffs since 2001). But two months into the 2018 season, they appear to be en route to ending that 17-year stretch of recurring pain. Currently 38-23, they’re in first place in the American League West and own the third-best record in Major League Baseball. And while their hot start is a tad bit surprising, it can’t be discredited or undermined; they could legitimately be playing meaningful baseball in October.

When you look at how the Mariners stack up versus the rest of MLB, you’d never guess that they would own the third-best record in baseball. Going into Wednesday night, they were just 14th in runs scored (262) and 17th in home runs (66). They also owned the 13th best team ERA in the game (3.77) — which is far from stellar. At the same time, when you decipher the production that many prominent figures within their ballclub are putting forth, one can’t help but wonder whether the Mariners could get better.

Kyle Seager, who is one of the best all-around third basemen in the game, was hitting just .224 with a .280 on-base percentage going into Wednesday night. He’s struggling to get on-base, and is striking out often. But a career .261 hitter and a staple in the Mariners order, Seager can only improve going forward — and chances are he will. Heavy swinger Nelson Cruz was hitting just .254 going into Wednesday night. Simultaneously, he had belted 10 home runs. Catcher Mike Zunino was also hitting just .211 after recording 25 home runs and a .251 average in 2017. If the three of them, Seager and Zunino in particular, begin to hit with more consistency, manager Scott Servais’ order could begin to take off.

The Mariners problem, as a whole, hasn’t been getting runners on base. In fact, going into Wednesday night, they were sixth in team batting average (.257). That figure is generated a great deal by their double-play duo of Jean Segura (who was hitting .333 with five home runs and 38 RBIs going into Wednesday night) and Dee Gordon (who was hitting .295 going into Wednesday night). Right fielder Mitch Haniger has also driven in a team-high 43 runs. Plus, outfielder Ben Gamel is beginning to get into a groove at the plate after missing the first three weeks of the season which only adds onto the Mariners’ firepower.

With how hot the @Mariners have been as of late, they can't be slept on moving forward.Click To Tweet

On the other end of life in Seattle, the Mariners are watching lefty James Paxton blossom into one of the best pitchers in the game. The lefty has good command, is reliable, and continues to improve with every passing year. He’s a surefire ace, is healthy, and a force to be reckoned with on the hill. Heck, he even threw a no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this season. Currently owning a 2.95 ERA and 1.03 WHIP while recording 101 strikeouts in 13 outings, Paxton is likely to be an All-Star game participant and is one of the last pitchers a team would want to face in a potential one-game playoff (such as the American League Wild Card Game).

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After Paxton, 26-year-old righty Marco Gonzales has gotten off to an impressive start this season. Currently owning a 3.38 ERA in 12 outings, Gonzales has been able to prevent runners from crossing home. However, he will need to limit the amount of runners he puts on base, as he owns a 1.31 WHIP. Wade LeBlanc has also been a reliable arm every fifth day since being inserted into the starting rotation. Owning a 2.60 ERA going into his Wednesday night start against the Houston Astros, LeBlanc has showcased the ability to be a versatile arm. Veterans’ Mike Leake and Felix Hernandez have been the Achilles heel of the Mariners rotation as they currently own ERA’s of 4.71 and 5.33.

Going into spring training, the AL West was viewed as the Houston Astros’ division to lose. They have arguably the best pitching staff in the game, a young and improving lineup, and are the defending World Series champions. But to the surprise of many, they’re not in first place. Is it still early on in the 2018 season? Sure, but when you look at what the Mariners have been doing this season, defending the division crown is going to be a challenge for Houston.

The Mariners could be playing and executing at a more productive rate than they are right now, and that goes for both their lineup and rotation. They are getting runners on base, they’re just not driving in those baserunners. They have proven commodities in their rotation and two young arms who can only improve. It’s also amazing to think that the Mariners have been on a tear without Robinson Cano who was suspended for 80 games by Major League Baseball for violating its joint drug agreement. Cano has been the backbone of the Mariners’ franchise over the last four to five years and his loss is a crushing blow when you take into account that he won’t be able to play in the postseason — if Seattle were to reach such play. With that said, Seattle is 15-6 since he was suspended; they’re not letting that distraction prevent them from playing at a high level.

In an attempt to, in a way, make up for the loss of Cano and improve their team for the short-term, the Mariners swung a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays for closer Alex Colome and outfielder Denard Span. While he got off to a shaky start to the season, Colome is still one of the best closers in the game. And in the four games he’s appeared in so far for Seattle, the All-Star has not surrendered a single run and only allowed one hit. On the other hand, while he’s not the speedy player of old, Span is still a reliable everyday player. He hits for contact, can hold his own in the field, and is a proven veteran. For the meantime, he’ll likely split time in left and center field, moving Dee Gordon to second base.

Seattle may not be the most talented ballclub at first glance, but they have a number of polished players, one of the best pitchers in the game, and are a team that can’t be taken for granted. They’re thriving on the underdog narrative and are just the type of team that can get hot at the right time; they can’t be slept on.

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