Midseason exam

Now that the All-Star Game and accompanying hooplah are in the rearview mirror (yay, Ty France finally got in! Boo, another really boring ASG with another Fox Sports broadcast that focused on everything except the game itself), let's take a minute and look at how Your Seattle Mariners did in the first half and how it comported with what we were all thinking before the season.

It's a very different evaluation now than it would have been a few weeks ago, what with the club's ongoing 14-game winning streak and phenomenal month going back to June 21. Seattle has only lost three games in that span. That's 22-3. And they're not done yet (we hope).

The incredible run has propelled the Mariners into playoff position after they previously appeared to be nearly as feckless as the always-underachieving Angels in early June. They still find themselves nine games behind the Astros in the American League West standings, but that's up from a season-worst 13½ back and as luck would have it their schedule has them playing Houston seven times before the end of July. Can they sustain their magic for another week and a half? Yes, the M's are in Wild Card position now, but let's not give up on the division yet.

So, how they got here is wild and wacky, but in the end, it's about where a lot of us thought the M's would be at the midpoint. Most of us here at GS.net pegged the M's as a Wild Card club, winning between 90-96 games. At 51-42, they are on pace to win 90. It's the details that don't match up with the preseason conventional wisdom.

Biggest surprises in the Mariners' first half

  • The 22-3 explosion of the last month, obviously. Especially given how badly they were playing before it started.
  • Defense, particularly that of Eugenio Suárez. We thought defense would be among the M's most glaring weaknesses this year outside of shortstop and first base. Instead, Seattle is the best defensive team in the league. Suárez had led the National League in errors by a third baseman four times and was generally thought to be a liability in the field, but not this year. Thanks in huge part, no doubt, to infield coaching guru Perry Hill, Geno has become a very good third baseman. No one's comparing him to Brooks Robinson or Adrian Beltre, but he's proven to be more than competent at the position and has made a number of exceptionally good plays.
  • Jarred Kelenic. Not only did he fail to look any better at the plate than he did for the majority of last season, but the team actually sent him down to Triple-A and has kept him there to properly develop. A refreshing surprise from the club that has routinely rushed highly-touted prospects to the bigs ahead of schedule.
  • On the other hand, Julio Rodríguez has exceeded even the most optimistic expectations for his rookie season. Julio is proving himself to be the exception to the rule, rewarding the M's for promoting him directly from Double-A.
  • The bullpen. Regression from last year's brilliant relief corps was inevitable, and we did see some. Drew Steckenrider in particular fell hard from his lofty 2021 heights and was thankfully DFA'd. Sergio Romo likewise couldn't find much left in his tank and is currently looking for work. Yohan Ramírez and Wyatt Mills are with other teams now. But others have stepped up—Erik Swanson finally developed a third pitch, a split-finger fastball, that was the key in finding his place as a high-leverage reliever. Penn Murfee came out of nowhere to be a brilliant asset in the middle innings. Andres Muñoz has had some growing pains, but nonetheless has been terrific more times than not. Paul Sewald may still be punching above his weight, and Ryan Borucki inspires very little confidence, but overall this is now a solid group and figures to be better when and if Ken Giles can finally get off the injured list.
  • Cal freakin' Raleigh. After beginning the year batting .083, the switch-hitting young catcher was optioned back to Triple-A. The demotion was short-lived, as Tom Murphy hurt his shoulder a week later and Cal was recalled out of necessity. It took a little while, but by early June he had started hitting reasonably well, and since June 2nd Raleigh has hit .250, which while not great is a whole lot better than .083. He's also launched nine home runs and driven in 25. The real success has come against left-handed pitchers—it's only 59 plate appearances, but Cal's line against LHPs is now .277/.390/.511. He's also been Mr. Clutch, coming through with a big hit with two out and runners in scoring position (.286/.375/.524).

Not all surprises are positive, however. We also have these items:

  • Losing 18 games in May. That was a month of cynical "the Mariners will never be good again as long as I live" cries from the stands.
  • Left on Base disease. Though it has improved a lot during The Streak, the Mariners are leading the universe in runners left on. A team that contends for the postseason, even in this new era of participation-trophy Wild Card berths, must be at least somewhat adept at moving runners along and getting them home by means other than two-out hits. For most of the season, the M's have, to put it kindly, sucked at this. Their recent surge was helped by an improvement in executing this fundamental aspect of the game, but there are still too many failures in the form of strikeouts with runners aboard.
  • Adam Frazier and Jesse Winker each batting under .240. Not at all what was expected from these offseason trade acquisitions. They have been as good or better than anticipated on defense—Winker is no Willie Mays out there, but he's solid; Frazier is a good second-sacker, but has also been decent in the outfield when pressed into service there—but with the sticks they are having the worst years of their careers: Frazier is batting 40 points below his career mark, Winker 47 points below his. Winker is getting on base via the walk and had started to heat up in June before cooling again in July (which includes missed games due to a suspension earned in the fight with the Angels), but the guy with a career .298/.393/.517 line vs. right-handed pitching so far has a .226/.340/.330 line vs. RHPs in 2022. Frazier has been streaky, running cold in April, hot in May, cold in June, and hot again here in July. We'll see if the pattern holds.
  • The right field hole. Seattle has missed Mitch Haniger in a big way this year, but he's on his way back. During Mitch's absence, the M's have played Frazier, Dylan Moore, Justin Upton, Taylor Trammell, Steven Sousa Jr., Marcus Wilson, and Sam Haggerty at the position. Only Haggerty, who as a utilityman has played elsewhere on the field too, has hit a lick. Frazier sometimes, but if he's in the outfield it usually means Abraham Toro is playing second base, and Toro is duking it out with Upton for the title of Worst Hitting Mariner.
  • Whether it qualifies as a surprise is up to your individual interpretation, but Toro's inability to hit has certainly been a disappointment. When Fatty Tuna was acquired from Houston last year, in the very unpopular (but fully expected) trade for Kendall Graveman, he went on a tear, batting .315/.391/.463 in his first 39 games as a Mariner. In 95 games since then, Toro has managed a line of only .165/.254/.282. He does have seven longballs this year, but he is by far the least likely Mariner to reach base in any given time at bat and it is mind-boggling that he has not been optioned down yet. It will be an even bigger surprise if he is still on the active roster when both Haniger and Kyle Lewis return from the injured list.

The Mariners enter the second half as the hottest team in the game, just ½ game back of the Tampa Bay Rays for the top Wild Card seed and out to prove they are, in fact, the real deal. Lewis is likely to be activated for tomorrows game against Houston. Haniger isn't thought to be too far behind. And you know Trader Jerry won't be sitting on his hands as the trade deadline approaches (August 2nd this year, for some reason).

Shaking the Magic 8-Ball with the question, "Are these Mariners legit?" We see the response: Signs point to yes.

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