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Sports >  Seattle Mariners

Matt Calkins: The Mariners are outperforming expectations in 2021. Is it time for fans to get excited?

UPDATED: Thu., July 1, 2021

Seattle Mariners outfielder Shed Long Jr. celebrates his two-run home run with catcher Luis Torrens during the third inning of Thursday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Buffalo, N.Y.  (Associated Press)
Seattle Mariners outfielder Shed Long Jr. celebrates his two-run home run with catcher Luis Torrens during the third inning of Thursday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Buffalo, N.Y. (Associated Press)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The halfway point has passed. Eighty-two games in the can.

The Mariners have won 43 times, lost 39 – about as entrenched in the middle as a squad can get.

So what’s the state of the team at the midpoint of the season? Or maybe more significant, the state of the organization?

Those are two different entities, as prospects are as significant as the men wearing the major league uniforms every day. So how should fans feel at this point?

If they are looking squarely at the record, they have to be pleased. This is a team that was almost universally predicted to finish under .500, and here it is four games above the mark. This comes despite reigning AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis missing 46 games due to a meniscus tear, last year’s ace Marco Gonzales missing all of May due to a forearm strain, and fellow former ace James Paxton needing season-ending Tommy John surgery after his first start of the year.

Had you told oddsmakers all that was going to happen in the first half of the season, they likely would have projected the M’s to win less than 70 games.

Yet, here they are, Adam’s apples above water, still dreaming of a playoff berth midway through the season.

You want clutch? How about a 9-1 record in extra-inning games. You want grit? How about an 18-6 record in games decided by one run. That’s called manufacturing wins. That’s called keeping fans in the seats. But if you’re a skeptic … you might say that’s called getting lucky.

One could argue that there is a difference between record and results. One could make the case that the Mariners’ position in the standings does not reflect the Mariners’ production on the field.

The M’s entered Wednesday’s game versus the Blue Jays – which Seattle won – having allowed 49 more runs than they scored. For comparison, the Twins entered their game Wednesday with the same run differential and were 33-44.

Doesn’t necessarily mean the M’s record is fool’s gold – their bullpen was outstanding in June and carried Seattle to a bevy of victories. But you have to wonder if this is sustainable.

Fangraphs.com gives the Mariners a mere 1% chance of making the playoffs. This is partly due to the fact that teams such as the A’s and the Rays – both of which are in second place in their divisions – are on pace to win 94 games. But that run differential also suggests the Mariners will regress in the second half.

What about the organization, though? This is a franchise in Year 3 of a rebuild characterized as a “step back” by general manager Jerry Dipoto before the 2019 season. Can fans be happy with how it’s going?

Seems hard to be too excited.

Jarred Kelenic, the most highly touted Mariners prospect in years, hit .096 in 92 plate appearances this season. First baseman and former first-round pick Evan White, who was placed on the 60-day disabled list last week, hit .144 with two home runs in 104 plate appearances. Lewis, meanwhile, has been injured, and when he was healthy, had a relatively benign .726 OPS – .159 points lower than what he produced his rookie year. And 23-year-old Taylor Trammell came into Wednesday’s game hitting .168.

The longtime cellar-dwelling 76ers of the NBA had a slogan called “trust the process,” which eventually came to fruition as they finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference this year. But when you look at some of the aforementioned numbers, can you trust the Mariners’ process?

To be fair, they’ve received top-notch production from shortstop J.P. Crawford, who leads the team with a 2.8 WAR. Right-handed pitcher Logan Gilbert, another former first-round pick, has looked solid in his last five starts (although his last one was suspended by rain).

But top to bottom? The youth movement hasn’t boomed the way fans and the Mariners’ front office was hoping it would.

There are still plenty of prospects waiting to show what they can do at this level. You got outfielder Julio Rodriguez along with right-handed pitchers Emerson Hancock and George Kirby. Remember, Mariners manager Scott Servais said he had never been more excited about an up-and-coming pitching staff in his MLB career.

Still, there seem to be more questions than answers when it comes to this Mariners team. They are halfway through the season, but when it comes to getting to where they want to be, I’m not sure they’re even halfway there.

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