SEATTLE – The Seattle Mariners’ trip to the East Coast is crucial to their postseason lives.
The past two series have rallied this 35-35 Seattle squad, but these next two series could ravage them.
No doubt June started out rough for the M’s before they took two out of three from both the Marlins and White Sox in their just-completed homestand. Productive as those six games were, though – these next six vs. the Yankees and Orioles will likely signal whether a 2022-like run is in them.
“We’re playing two very good teams,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais, whose team beat the White Sox 5-1 on Sunday. “I’m looking forward to it. I think our team is.”
Before turning to the future, Servais began Sunday’s postgame news conference by looking fondly on the Mariners’ recent past. Not only did they recover from Saturday’s 4-3 extra-inning loss – which featured a blown save – but they sealed their second straight series win after losing six of their first eight games in June.
The Orioles (44-27) are the top wild-card team in the AL, 4.5 games ahead of the next-best Angels (41-33) and 8.5 games ahead of the M’s. The Yankees (39-32) hold the third and final wild-card spot, and sit 3.5 games in front of Seattle, which is seventh in the WC standings.
This means two things: 1) The Mariners are playing top-tier teams that have a good chance of being favored in every game; and 2) this is a rare opportunity to directly cut into the leads these wild-card squads hold over them.
Perhaps this road trip wouldn’t feel quite as weighty if it were against division rivals. The Mariners are going to get seven more games against the Angels and 10 more against the Astros (39-33). But this will be the last shot they get at the Yankees, and one of two series they’ll have vs. the O’s. And remember, teams don’t play as many divisional games as they used to, meaning the Mariners can’t count on clubs from the AL East – where all five teams are above .500 – to feast on each other.
Do you put more value on these games given who you’re playing? Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic was asked.
“Me personally, you treat them all the same. I don’t care who’s out there. A game is a game. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Yankees, the White Sox, whoever,” said Kelenic, whose three-run triple in the eighth inning Sunday put the M’s up by four and all but ensured a win. “At the same time, we’re human, too. All that stuff creeps in. But I think one thing our team does really well, all the guys in the clubhouse treat everything the same.”
One thing the Mariners must do over the next few games is produce offense that has been exasperatingly inconsistent. Before Kelenic’s triple, Seattle had scored just nine runs in the previous 36 innings. On the season, the team sits 24th in MLB with a .692 OPS, and is 20th with 308 runs. Not sustainable for a club that far down in the standings.
As the skipper pointed out, Marlins right fielder Jesus Sanchez robbed Eugenio Suarez of a would-be game-tying grand slam in the ninth inning Wednesday, and a win Saturday seemed imminent through eight innings. The Mariners are playing winning baseball – but doing so against two American League East juggernauts this week is a distinctly different challenge.
What the Mariners have been getting lately is quality starting pitching – something that was conspicuously absent at the beginning of the month. The latest example came Sunday, when rookie right-hander Bryce Miller allowed just one run in seven innings. That performance came six days after he gave up just one run in six innings vs. the Marlins.
Servais gave Miller his proper praise, citing his even-keel, Texas-inspired personality as a key reason for him bouncing back from consecutive shellackings before that outing against Miami. As for what Bryce thinks about what his team is doing right now?
“It’s all about timing really. The hitters are going to come around eventually, and we’re going to throw well,” he said. “If we gotta pick up the hitters, we will. And whenever we’re down, the hitters will pick us up. It’s a long season. It’s always good to get a win, a series win, and have a happy flight to New York.”
A happy one coming home is a far more difficult task.