To say that the first couple of months of the 2023 Seattle Mariners season have been a disappointment would be an understatement. A team that ended a 20+ year playoff drought less than a year ago had bigger aspirations coming into 2023. The M’s were supposed to have one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball from the starting rotation through the bullpen. The lineup added some power to go with a full year of Julio Rodriguez playing at an MVP level.
Most of that has not happened. Seattle is coming off one of the worst weeks in franchise history, being outscored 50-16 in six games where they allowed a total of two runs in two of those games which means they allowed 48 in the other four. Inconsistency up and down the lineup has created an energy vacuum that just sucks the energy out of the Mariner faithful as they leave runner after runner in scoring position. Seattle is tied for 27th in hitting with runners in scoring position at just a .228 clip through 59 games this season. That is…not good. And this adds validity to the major complaint we heard from Mariner fans this offseason.
“They need to add another bat.”
That is not wrong by any means. The lineup is clearly thin and the deeper you go the worse and worse it gets. But that is a lazy excuse as to why the Mariners are struggling. It comes down to this. Guys are not producing. It seems as everyone is having a down year, but we will dig into that in just a bit.
Let’s start with the bullpen. Inconsistency has been an issue. Matt Brash has been either absolutely dominant or just abysmal. The return of Andres Muñoz will help that issue. Muñoz is a guy that firmly cemented himself as the #2 guy out of the bullpen behind just Paul Sewald who has been phenomenal this season. Seattle is relying on a lot of young guys however to hold down the bullpen which is playing with fire. Tayler Saucedo had only pitched in 33 games before this season. Gabe Speier had only seen action in 41 games since making his debut in 2019. Justin Topa debuted in 2020 and had only seen 18 innings of action before this season. Matt Brash is in just his second MLB season and first full season as a reliever while Juan Then made his MLB debut this season.
That is not a lot of experience for a group of guys that has to constantly protect small leads. Matt Festa just got called up but he had issues before spending some time in Tacoma to work things out. Chris Flexen is another guy in the bullpen that is just their for the blowout games, good or bad, or to come in in case of an injury. Diego Castillo really had a nightmare of a start to this season and Trevor Gott is in a tough skid that I am sure he will work his way out of. While Seattle does have a bullpen ERA of 3.68, another veteran reliever could help round out the relieving corps.
I am going to skip over the defense because while it is not as good as last season, the Mariners are still one of the best defensive teams in the sport. Let’s move on to base running mistakes. Yikes. Seattle has been picked off seven times this season which is tied for the third most in the MLB. That also adds into the eight times the Mariners have made on out at second base. You can not be giving outs on the basepaths especially when the offense is already a disaster.
Now the solution to this problem is to tone down on the aggression. I get stealing an extra base on a blooper can spark a team, but an out can kill a rally before it even gets started. The M’s need to tone it down a bit and just settle for singles. Singles do indeed start rallies. I actually like the idea of trying to steal more bases as well. The Mariners have just 36 stolen bases this season and with some of the sneaky speed they have, that number should get up above league average which is 43. So better base running decisions will give the M’s some more opportunities to string hits together.
Now we move on to the big issue. Guys are not producing at the plate. Almost every single player is producing well below where they were at last season. There are a couple of exceptions like Jarred Kelenic who is having a career year and J.P. Crawford as he thrives in the leadoff spot. But let’s go through the rest of the lineup and see what they did last season compared to what they are doing this year.
2022- .284/.345/.509 (AVG/OBP/SLG), 28 home runs, 75 RBI, 25 stolen bases, 145 strikeouts
2023- .242/.301/.428, ON PACE for 23 home runs, 74 RBI, 27 stolen bases, 164 strikeouts
2022- .236/.332/.459, 31 home runs, 87 RBI, 196 strikeouts
2023- .211/.314/.326, ON PACE for 15 home runs, 89 RBI, 183 strikeouts
2022- .267/.316/.491, 25 home runs, 77 RBI, 35 2Bs, 152 strikeouts
2023- .241/.280/.408, ON PACE for 20 home runs, 66 RBI, 15 2Bs, 179 strikeouts
2022- .211/.284/.489, 27 home runs, 63 RBI, 122 strikeouts
2023- .226/.305/.429, ON PACE for 18 home runs, 60 RBI, 116 strikeouts
2022- .274/.338/.436, 20 home runs, 83 RBI
2023- .269/.340/.410, ON PACE for 12 home runs, 62 RBI
2022- .251/.339/.430, 15 home runs, 47 RBI, 17 stolen bases, 24 2Bs
2023- .159/.250/.186, ON PACE for 0 home runs, 30 RBI, 0 stolen bases, 10 2Bs
Those are the big examples. The scariest issue is the strikeouts. The Mariners have the 4th most strikeouts at the plate with a total of 573. As many of you saw, four of the top five individuals with the most strikeouts in the American League are Mariners in Teoscar Hernandez, Jarred Kelenic, Eugenio Suarez, and Julio Rodriguez. Now those wouldn’t be as bad if the Mariners were hitting more home runs. However, the Mariners are tied for 20th in baseball in home runs with just 61. The M’s are on pace for just 167 home runs this season which would be 30 fewer than they had in 2022. Good things happen when you put the ball in play and the Mariners are one of the worst teams in baseball at doing that. They absolutely have to control the strike zone better and cut down on the chase rate.
So when you look at the bigger picture, no realistic free agent that the Mariners could have got would be helping this team too much. There are much bigger issues with the 2023 Seattle Mariners. Guys simply have to be better. It is time for a leader to step up and challenge this team to be better. With a much improved AL West and the AL East looking like a guaranteed two wild card division, if the Mariners don’t improve their productivity, they will be sellers at the deadline and will be looking at a one-year playoff drought.