After a 21-year postseason drought and some heartbreakingly close misses in recent seasons, the Seattle Mariners can finally say that they’re a playoff team again. As the second Wild Card club and No. 5 seed, the Mariners were driven by their pitching, while finally providing just enough on offense — especially thanks to likely Rookie of the Year winner Julio Rodríguez.
However, there’s no guarantee of the city of Seattle actually seeing its first playoff baseball since 2001. The M’s face quite a test, needing to win two out of three games at Rogers Centre to advance to a Division Series against Houston. But if their pitching can shut down the Blue Jays’ occasionally streaky bats in Toronto, anything could happen.
Manager: Scott Servais
Top Position Player: Julio Rodríguez (5.3 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Logan Gilbert (3.1 fWAR)
For a long time, the Mariners’ superstar and face of the franchise was a pitcher, Félix Hernández. That mantle has now squarely been passed to Rodríguez, who became the first player in MLB history to hit 25 homers and steal 25 bases in the debut season. Racking up over five wins despite spending multiple stints on the IL, the 21-year-old (he was two days short of being born in 2001!) keyed his team’s offense and was rewarded with a stunning extension that could keep him in Seattle until 2039.
An offseason trade also provided Seattle their second-most valuable position player by WAR. The Mariners nabbed Eugenio Suárez from the Cincinnati Reds in March, alongside teammate Jesse Winker (who was supposed to be the real prize of the deal, but has only been adequate and is now injured). Despite a league-league 196 strikeouts, Suárez also clubbed 31 home runs to provide some much-needed power and hit to a 131 wRC+ mark, nearly the best of his career.
The Seattle offense was also aided by the breakout of catcher Cal Raleigh, who put up 4.2 fWAR, excellent at framing, and hit the walk-off home run to clinch the Mariners’ postseason spot in an instantly iconic moment. First baseman Ty France also put up his second consecutive solid season in the lineup, earning an All-Star appearance with a .276/.340/.437 triple slash.
But if the Mariners make it through the Blue Jays to the ALDS, it will likely be on the strength of their pitching staff. The team made an incredibly valuable move at the trade deadline in acquiring ace Luis Castillo from the Reds, giving them the legit Game 1 starter they needed. Since the trade, Castillo has pitched to a 2.91 FIP in 65.1 innings, with a 10.61 K/9, and he’s already signed a five-year extension. He also limits home runs, which will be crucial against the Jays’ big bats.
The second-year pitcher Logan Gilbert also cemented himself as a solid starter this year. He’s hardly flashy — he gives up a lot of hard contact, and Baseball Savant doesn’t run his pitch spin very highly. He also has an issue with giving up walks. Nevertheless, Gilbert makes a living off of his four-seam fastball, which he throws over half the time and had a run value of -12 this season.
The Mariners’ starting staff is rounded out by Robbie Ray, who is a far cry from last year’s Cy Young performance but has shown the ability to dominate in certain games. Rookie George Kirby has also jumped onto the scene with incredible control of his pitches.
The Mariners also likely have the advantage over the Jays when it comes to the bullpen. Righty Erik Swanson broke out in his fourth season in Seattle with a 1.85 FIP. Paul Sewald gets more whiffs than almost anyone in the league. Baseball Savant’s first comparison to 33rd round draft pick Penn Murfee is Nestor Cortes. Converted starter Matt Brash has also become a real weapon in relief; after giving up a run in his second of back-to-back appearances on July 23rd, he’s pitched to a 2.13 ERA, 1.73 FIP, and 37 strikeouts in 25.1 innings.
The Jays are certainly the betting favorite in this series, and it’s not hard to see why. The M’s simply don’t have the lineup depth that Toronto has, and getting wins off of Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman will be difficult. But if they falter, or the Mariners can get quickly into their vulnerable bullpen, the conversation will be different. If they make it through to the ALDS, they’ll have a date with the Astros, who finished 16 games ahead of them in the AL West. Seattle is far from the favorite right now and has a long road ahead to win its franchise’s first pennant, but playoff baseball altogether has to taste sweet just the same.