It was a struggle against the Angels, but the Mariners ultimately maintained a playoff spot and stayed within reach of the AL West lead.
There have been times this season, when the Mariners admit they’ve played up or down, according to the quality of the opponent. Prime examples include a 8-2 record versus the Astros, contrasted by losing a home series to the Nationals at the end of June.
The latest exhibit of playing to the level of the opponent, came during their most recent series versus the Angels. With no Shohei Ohtani or Mike Trout in the lineup, it should have been a cake walk.
Instead, the Mariners were stunned in the series opener, losing 8-5 to their divisional rivals. It increased their losing streak to four games and dropped them out of a playoff spot; the need for some extensive soul-searching was evident.
Fortunately for the fans, the Mariners responded with an emphatic 8-0 win the following night, to tie the series. However, more angst followed in the rubber match on Wednesday, as they labored to a 3-2 victory.
Mariners manager Scott Servais was understandably relieved. Speaking postgame to the media, the said:
“It was a series that we needed to win. It didn’t start off that great when we let the game Monday night get away from us, but credit to our guys.”
A double dose of good luck
As the saying goes, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. The Mariners received a significant slice of good fortune on Wednesday, as they rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the bottom of the fifth.
Despite the Mariners already having a runner on first, the Angels made the decision to intentionally walk Julio Rodríguez. As hot as the two-time All-Star has undoubtedly been, this still represented a rare and surprising decision. (It was just the third time this season in the Majors, that a batter had been walked with a man on first base.)
However, even this couldn’t prepare for what came next, as Angels manager Phil Nevin brought in right-handed pitcher Jimmy Herget to face Cal Raleigh. Unfortunately for Angels fans, it essentially seemed like Nevin had temporarily forgotten Raleigh was a switch-hitter.
The Mariners’ catcher subsequently hit a RBI single, to tie the game at 2-2. Then Teoscar Hernández notched a RBI of his own, to bring Rodríguez home for what turned out to be the winning run.
A jubilant Rodríguez discussed the Mariners’ never-say-die attitude with the media. He said:
“We stay fighting. If there are two outs, we don’t give up on the inning. They’ve got to come through, and they’ve got to get that extra out. We don’t play two outs. So I feel like that’s kind of the whole mentality that we’ve got, that we’re always competing.”
The Rock does his thing
In such a tight game, the Mariners were undoubtedly helped by another strong outing from Luis Castillo. He went 6.0 innings, allowing just three hits and two earned runs in the process. (He admittedly did also give up three walks on the night.)
To say Castillo has been durable, would be somewhat of an understatement. He has pitched at least 5.0 innings in all 30 of his starts during 2023, which is most in the Majors.
Servais certainly appreciates the three-time All-Star. He said:
“He has been the rock. He has put together just an unbelievable season, after doing what he did last year to lead us into the playoffs. He’s the epitome of consistency.”
There have been times this season, when Castillo’s status as staff ace has been questioned. However, the Mariners have now won the last nine times he’s started, including his phenomenal effort last time out versus the Rays.
It’s worth noting the 30-year-old leads the AL in fewest hits per nine innings, while also having the most starts. Additionally, his 1.042 WHIP following Wednesday’s outing has him on course for a single-season career low.
Castillo was asked about his approach to the game and how it also helps his teammates. Speaking through an interpreter, he said:
“You know, I’ve always said a positive mentality and the vibe we have in this clubhouse is what’s given us the success we’ve had, today, tomorrow and always. So that positive mentality is important.”
When Castillo exited the game, it was down to the under-fire bullpen to come through. Admittedly there were some dicey moments, particularly with Justin Topa in the seventh, but ultimately the relievers allowed no more runs.
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Mariners in a good position
It’s still nip-and-tuck as of Friday morning, with the Mariners sitting 1.5 games above the Blue Jays for the final AL wild card spot. They also still have designs on the divisional title, just 1.5 games themselves behind the Astros in the AL West.
Statistically speaking at least, the Mariners are a more sure bet to qualify for the postseason. In fact, FanGraphs have them as 80.4 percent likely to make the playoffs.
The issue with these percentages is that they can change dramatically from day to day, especially with the Mariners having just 16 games remaining. Regardless, the message is clear – their playoff fate is essentially in their own hands.
As much as the Mariners have been guilty of playing down to their opponents at times, now is the time for them to also continue playing up to the better teams. Especially as they have three games next up against the Dodgers, as well as three versus the Astros and seven against the Rangers still to come.
Whatever lies ahead though, Servais retains supreme belief in his players. As he said on Wednesday night:
“We just show up every day and get ready to compete. And whatever the game calls for, we have a group that really responds to that.”
- Hernández was able to extend his on-base streak to 28 games. This is the longest such streak for the Mariners since 2016, when Robinson Canó safely reached base in 34 consecutive games.
- With his RBI in the third inning, Rodríguez is now on a team-leading 99 for the season. He also leads the Mariners in hits, doubles, home runs, steals, runs, batting average, OPS and WAR.
- Jarred Kelenic missed his second consecutive game with a sore right foot. He could have been used if necessary, but the preference was to ideally give him an extended rest until Friday’s home series began with the Dodgers.
- With the win on Wednesday, the Mariners clinched at least a .500 record for the season, as they improved to 81-65. They now have 17 .500 or better seasons in franchise history.
With 16 games remaining in the regular season, what is your prediction for the Mariners’ remaining schedule? More importantly, will they do enough to qualify for the playoffs, or fall short? Let us know in the comments section below.