Mariners believe snapping playoff drought only the beginning
SEATTLE (AP) — The Seattle Mariners’ season boiled down to a combination of undeniable success and a disappointing conclusion.
The year was filled with peaks and valleys that included an unforgettable summer in the Pacific Northwest that made baseball fun again and brought the Mariners back to relevance. It ended with the Houston Astros sweeping Seattle in the AL Division Series.
The Mariners now go into the offseason knowing they were the better team during a big part of the series, which could be the springboard they need as they try to reach their goal of making a World Series.
“We were starved to get playoff baseball here,” manager Scott Servais said. “We got it here. Now we need to take the next step and look to improve our club in any way we can.”
Seattle’s season was spiraling toward ruin and likely wholesale changes when the Mariners stood at 29-39 in mid-June after losing four of five games at home to the Los Angeles Angels. From that point forward, Seattle went 61-33, including a 14-game winning streak, and clinched the team’s first playoff berth since 2001 in the most dramatic way possible, with Cal Raleigh’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth on Sept. 30 against Oakland.
Raleigh was one of a number of young players who made their mark this season. None more so than All-Star Julio Rodríguez, the overwhelming favorite to be named rookie of the year. First baseman Ty France was also an All-Star and Seattle has put together a pitching staff that is the envy of most in baseball.
Winning a wild-card series and reaching the ALDS was satisfying for a playoff-starved fan base. Now it remains to be seen how the Mariners build and supplement in the offseason and how ready it makes them to challenge the Astros.
“We all know what it takes to get here and get beyond this point, so we got to get ready,” shortstop J.P. Crawford said. “I’m motivated as hell to get back here next year. I can’t wait.”
Rodríguez seems a lock to become Seattle’s fifth rookie of the year winner after hitting .284 with 28 home runs and 75 RBIs and stealing 25 bases despite missing time with wrist and back injuries. The 21-year-old was the burst of energy the Mariners needed, not to mention an answer at center field. Rodríguez should be the face of baseball in Seattle for the next decade-plus.
What made Seattle so good the final two-thirds of the season was an elite pitching staff that is the reason there is so much optimism moving forward. Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby are all under club control through the 2026 season after the four combined to go 37-25 with a 3.41 ERA in 100 starts. Throw in workhorse Marco Gonzales, versatile Chris Flexen and top minor-league prospect Emerson Hancock and the Mariners have a wealth of pitching depth that could give them trade possibilities for a potential offensive addition.
Several younger players should have big roles going into 2023. Raleigh established himself as one of the top catchers in the American League with his handling of the pitching staff and after hitting 27 home runs. Raleigh played the final month with a fracture in his left thumb and has ligament damage that will need to be watched during the offseason. Jarred Kelenic is likely to be one of the corner outfielders going into next season, while Sam Haggerty is almost assured of having an important utility role off the bench.
Eugenio Suárez was the afterthought when Seattle acquired him and Jesse Winker before the season. Winker seemed to play his way out of Seattle with a disappointing season, while Suárez is established as the Mariners’ third baseman going forward. Suárez was better than expected defensively and he hit a team-high 31 homers. His personality was also a perfect fit in the clubhouse.
With its starting pitching locked up and the majority of its position players solidified, Seattle should be selectively aggressive this offseason. The biggest decision will be what to do with right fielder Mitch Haniger. Seattle could make a qualifying offer, look for a long-term deal or let the veteran walk. Middle infield is likely to be a target after a subpar season from Adam Frazier. Whether or not Carlos Santana returns, having another left-handed bat or switch-hitter will be important.
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