The Seattle Mariners have pushed Houston all season in the AL West division standings in 2018. They’ve done it with surprising starting pitching and a coming-into-their-own type of bullpen. It’s a testament to Mariners manager Scott Servais and the newly-extended General Manager Jerry Dipoto that this team is contending for a coveted division crown, instead of looking for Wild Card scraps like most fans expected from them in April.
Based on the eye-test, the 2018 Mariners appear ready to contend. They beat up on bad teams, they’re hard to put away late in games—even against better competition. And so far, they’ve managed to form a consistent late-inning bridge to American League Saves leader and All-Star Edwin Diaz.
Their hitting hasn’t always been timely, their bullpen hasn’t always been lights-out, but here the Mariners stand in full control of the second Wild Card spot with a chance for more in the second week of July.
Just eye-balling the American League ranks of the Mariners this year, you wouldn’t guess they’re in the top tier of the league. On offense, they’re eighth in runs scored, third in hits, eighth in home runs, third in batting average, and sixth in on-base percentage and slugging.
On the pitching side, it’s similar ranks. Other than leading the league in Saves, the Mariners don’t crack the top five league-wide in any major pitching categories.
This has been written about before, but the Mariners are here today because they don’t give up easy outs, they play good defense, and their pitching has at least been mostly consistent.
The starting rotation has been a pleasant surprise. There’s no ‘Oh no, so-and-so’s starting’ in this group. James Paxton has emerged as the ace, Wade LeBlanc, Marco Gonzales, and Mike Leake have all exceeded expectations by keeping the ball in the park and inducing weak contact, and Felix Hernandez appears to have shaken off his awful start to the season. Hernandez is a long way from his once-dominant form, but lately, he’s improved.
After two ho-hum five-inning starts in a row, he still sports 3.54 ERA over the last 28 days, according to Baseball Reference. I realize ERA isn’t everything, and King Felix’s WHIP has stayed consistent even during this ‘hot’ streak, but with the way the Mariners have been winning close games, run prevention, lucky or otherwise, will keep them in games.
Rest of the West
The Houston Astros kept pace with the Mariners, who, in spite of dropping two of three at home to the mediocre Colorado Rockies, went 7-3 over their last 10 games. Houston remains 3.5 games ahead of Seattle.
The Oakland A’s are starting to creep up the standings and enter the periphery of the Wild Card chase, a disturbing development to any Mariners fan who remembers the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Oakland won the series in Cleveland and generally owned the AL Central-leading Indians over the past week, winning four out of six. They have a big four-game series in Houston starting Monday night.
The Angels, despite the return of Shohei Ohtani, continue to hover around the .500 mark. Mike Trout, over the past two weeks (before a 3-4 effort on Saturday), has shown signs he might be human rather than a genetically engineered cyborg created to crush baseballs (and run the bases perfectly, field everything hit his way, steal bases, take walks, etc.). Trout slashed (average/on-base/slugging) .225/.415/.425 over the past two weeks. The guy had nine hits in 40 at-bats yet still managed an OBP over .400.
The Texas Rangers finally managed to get outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to the All-Star Game, Choo’s first All-Star appearance in a consistently good career. If Texas can find a way to move his massive contract, Choo could be trade bait later this month. The 14-year veteran is slashing .293/.399/.504 in 2018.