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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Commentary: Texas-Arizona World Series showcases what could have been for Mariners

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Paul Sewald, middle, celebrates with teammates after beating the Philadelphia Phillies, 4-2, in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, in Philadelphia.  (Tribune News Service)
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

SEATTLE – If the Mariners wanted to go gentle into that bad night after being eliminated from the playoffs on the last Saturday of the season, well, no such luck.

Any hope of easing unobtrusively into the offseason was eliminated that night when catcher Cal Raleigh ripped the organization for its lack of spending and for trading reliever Paul Sewald at an inopportune time. Then came president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto’s infamous “54%” and “we’re doing the fans a favor” news conference, words that will have staying power. And not in a positive way.

Now we have a World Series matchup that is like a blinking neon light showcasing what could have been for the Mariners. In one corner, there are the Texas Rangers – from Seattle’s own division, no less – who are like a living, breathing testament to what intelligent and aggressive spending can do to boost a team. And in the other, the Arizona Diamondbacks, who made the most impactful move of the trade deadline by plucking from the Mariners that very Sewald, who this postseason has six saves plus a win, and no runs allowed in his eight appearances.

It’s accurate to say that the Diamondbacks don’t make the World Series without their July 31 trade of Dominic Canzone, Josh Rojas and minor-leaguer Ryan Bliss to the Mariners for Sewald, who filled a gaping hole in their bullpen. It’s unknown if the Mariners would have made the postseason if they had kept Sewald, or proactively hunted out more pitching or a bigger impact bat – as they had done so successively a year earlier with Luis Castillo and Carlos Santana. I’m leaning heavily toward answering “yes,” considering they missed out by one stinking game – or two, if you figure the Blue Jays would have played their season finale differently had it meant something.

For the Mariners, it is painful in myriad ways, not the least of which is the ongoing burden of being the only MLB team never to make the World Series. Now that their playoff drought is over, the onus of their World Series drought is the cross they must bear. In a week or so, the Rangers can exit another unwelcome club – the only teams never to win the World Series. It’s Texas (for now), Seattle, Milwaukee, San Diego, Tampa Bay and Colorado, an ever-shrinking group.

You have to get there to win it, of course. It’s fair to point out the Mariners won four more games than the Diamondbacks in the regular season, and had the misfortune of being in the wrong league. If Arizona hadn’t been swept by Houston in their season-ending series, it would have given the Mariners a much better playoff shot. Instead, the Diamondbacks backed into the playoffs, the last team to make it, when the Cubs and Reds faltered.

A lot of people thought the M’s had the potential to run the table in the playoffs if they could just get there, just like Arizona did. We’ll never know.

But it’s also more than fair to point out – again – that the Mariners never exhibited a comparable urgency to build upon their breakthrough 2022 season, either before or during the season. Let’s hope that is their takeaway from this World Series matchup and what led these two teams to the grandest stage in the sport.

The Rangers and Diamondbacks are being lauded for their turnaround from 102 and 110 losses, respectively, two years ago, and justifiably so. But the Rangers, who lost 94 games last year, also had four losing seasons in a row before the 102-loss season; their turnaround is not quite as overnight as it’s being portrayed. The Mariners transitioned from rebuild to contender much more quickly.

But the Mariners need to absorb what happened after Texas’ 102-loss season, when the Rangers spent about half a billion to land free agents Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. That is the foundation for their pennant run, supplemented by signing Jacob deGrom and Nathan Eovaldi this past offseason (as well as hiring three-time World Series champion Bruce Bochy as manager). DeGrom was lost for the season because of an arm injury, a risk the Rangers were well aware was a possibility and willing to take; meanwhile, Eovaldi was a huge contributor in the regular season and postseason.

No need to belabor the point of how monumentally inadequate the Mariners’ offseason acquisitions were. Where the Rangers also distinguished themselves from the Mariners is in their proactive midseason acquisitions to shore up their pitching staff when it began to badly falter. They acquired Jordan Montgomery, Max Scherzer and Aroldis Chapman in separate deals; it’s safe to say they don’t hold off the Mariners without those moves, which allowed the Rangers to get past an eight-game losing streak in August when their season seemed on the verge of unraveling.

And now here they are, playing in the World Series against the Diamondbacks, an exciting young team featuring rising superstar Corbin Carroll from Seattle; they are riding Sewald as far as he’ll take them. The Diamondbacks promptly lost nine consecutive games after Sewald joined them to fall two games under .500 on Aug. 11. Sewald blew his first save opportunity with his new club, giving up two homers. The Diamondbacks’ prospects seemed dire, but then Arizona won 11 of the next 13 to surge right back in contention. Sewald blew just one save opportunity the rest of the way and became a rock in the back end of the bullpen.

The Mariners, meanwhile, got a modest upgrade at second base with Rojas and received a couple of big hits from Canzone. Bliss is a promising prospect, but that’s down the road; there’s no doubt the bullpen could have used Sewald down the stretch this season. They could have used another productive bat – maybe someone such as Tommy Pham, whom the Diamondbacks picked up from the Mets. The Mariners petered out down the stretch, going 11-17 in September and losing the first five of six in a do-or-die stretch against the Rangers and Astros in late September to put themselves in an untenable position.

There are many lessons for the Mariners to take to heart as they take in the World Series – especially when you look at a Rangers young core that should be formidable for the foreseeable future. One is that you are doing no one a favor with a less-than-fully committed pursuit of a title – especially nearly half a century in.

Let’s hope this time, it’s glaring and embarrassing enough that they take it to heart.