Welcome! Around these parts, we’re very accustomed to having to pick a team to bandwagon in the playoffs, so we welcome you with the openest of arms to our little corner of the baseball map. If you’ve made it here, surely you know that the Mariners’ playoff run is their first since 2001, and you may know that they’re the only team that’s never even been to the World Series. If that wasn’t enough to get you behind this squad, their next task—taking down the Houston Astros—is sure to get you on board. Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of your new fandom.
The Mariners have had their ups and downs over the last 20 years, but after the 2018 season came crashing down, Mariners President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto got ownership to finally commit to a full teardown and rebuild. (Though he insisted on marketing it as a “reimagining.” Occasionally rolling your eyes at Jerry Dipoto is a big part of being a Mariners fan.) Dipoto has a reputation for building through trades.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally traded by Jerry Dipoto pic.twitter.com/g0FgzloCob— Chase De Jong (@ChaseDeJong) December 5, 2019
Three such trades loom particularly large in this team’s narrative. First, at the beginning of the rebuild, Jerry Dipoto unloaded Robinson Canó’s remaining $120 million by pairing him with Edwin Díaz to get Jarred Kelenic. As expected, after an initial adjustment period, Díaz was lights out for the Mets (which makes us happy—we still love him!), but Kelenic is still struggling to find success at the MLB level. He still has time, and the Mariners have used that saved money to extend their bevy of young stars while retaining room to add more this offseason. Second, Jerry Dipoto swindled AJ Preller in a two-part trade that saw Seattle exchange Austin Nola and bullpen filler to the Padres in exchange for lockdown reliever Andrés Muñoz, All-Star first baseman Ty France, firebreather Matt Brash, as well as luxury bench pieces Taylor Trammell and Luis Torrens. And third, to put the final piece of the puzzle in place, Dipoto and the Mariners shocked the baseball world at this year’s deadline by outbidding everyone for ace Luis Castillo, who has since signed a five-year extension.
But amid all the trading, don’t sleep on the Mariners having (1) drafted and developed Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, and Cal Raleigh, who put up a combined 10.4 fWAR this year, and (2) used strong relationships to get superstar Julio Rodríguez to sign as an international free agent in 2017, and then let him grow into the face of Seattle baseball to the point where he signed what could be a record-breaking long-term contract.
Nor should you ignore the Mariners’ reputation among players for getting the most out of their pitchers, regularly getting almost-washed-out players like Paul Sewald to sign minor league deals here and revitalize their careers.
The 2022 Season
The 2022 season really picks up where the 2021 season left off. After not seeing their playoff odds grow past 5%, the 2021 Mariners went on an August-September rally to enter the final weekend in playoff position. Relying on an improbable stretch of one-run vicotries, they won 90 games despite a -51 run differential. But they mocked the stat, preferring to cite thier “fun differential.” When they couldn’t get over the hump during the final weekend, they promised they’d be back for more.
Sure enough, the Mariners were back, but this time with added reinforcements to start the season with playoff odds around 25%. Thanks to a rock solid rotation, a shutdown bullpen, and just enough offense, the Mariners secured 90 wins again, but this time with a more legitimate run differential of +67. Like the 2021 team, they still relied on one-run victories, but they were better earned.
Still, it was a bumpy path. A May and June swoon saw them lose series after series including six of seven games to the Red Sox. A memorably brutal five-game weekend series against their bitterest rival, the Anaheim Angels, brought their record to a season-low 29-39. But then they won five in a row, and facing Anaheim again a week later proved to be a turning point. The Angels—beginning their own death spiral and smarting from an imagined slight to Mike Trout, one of only two good things about Angels baseball—headhunted Julio and Jesse Winker, leading to one of the more violent brawls in recent MLB memory.
Shortly after that, the M’s went on a 14-game winning streak that put them in playoff position heading into the All-Star break. They fell off some down the stretch as injuries started to catch up to the team, playing poorly against some sub-.500 opponents, but also delivered signature moments like an extra-innings win on the road in Cleveland that led to a sweep (in a game that featured a longer rain delay than the time of the actual game), their rookie sensation becoming the fastest-ever to a 25/25 season, and a series win against the reigning world champion Atlanta Braves. But no moment was bigger than this one, where they secured their first postseason berth in 20 years on a pinch-hit, walk-off, 2 out, 3-2 count home run.
The Mariners then shut down the Blue Jays in the Wild Card round, winning the first game 4-0 and staging the second-largest comeback in postseason history to turn an 8-1 deficit into a 10-9 win in Game 2. Like after every win since July 4, the Mariners danced in celebration. Read all about the dance here.
The infield dance...it's evolving. Extra turns, extra people, more precision footwork. Also I see you Carlos Santana coming in from the bench to dance. pic.twitter.com/o4kkJ92BHG— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) July 16, 2022
We start with the outfield because that’s where the Mariners’ superstar phenom plays. A lock to win Rookie of the Year, Julio blasted 28 home runs, stole 25 bases (because scouts said he was slow, he just decided to learn how to be fast), hit .284, and ranked in the 92nd percentile in Outs Above Average. On top of that, he’s an incredible dude, never letting bad days get him down, living by the credo “I don’t lose. I win or I learn.” Surely you remember him from the Home Run Derby. In right field, find the longest-tenured Mariner, Mitch Haniger. Haniger is beloved by this fan base in honor of his lengthy highlight reel and status as the ultimate try-hard, even as time and a series of injuries have worn him down. On Julio’s other side, you’ll see the incredibly intense Jarred Kelenic, looking to turn a hot September into more sustainable MLB success.
The beating heart of the Mariners club is third baseman Eugenio Suárez. His “good vibes only” mantra has spread across the locker room thanks to his infectious positive energy. He backs it up with it-will-surprise-you solid defense and a three-true-outcomes approach at the plate, as he strikes out well above league average, but has hit more homers over the past five years than any player save Aaron Judge.
Behind the plate, you’ll find Cal Raleigh, who’s established himself as a folk hero thanks to his titanic blast to send the Mariners to the postseason, but also for being criminally underrated. The Mariners are 23-3 when he hits a home run, and while his Big Dumper nickname is gaining fame around the nation, the proper nomenclature for his homers is “Beef Boy Bombs.”
When he isn’t rescuing huskies, unofficial team captain J.P. Crawford brings as much swagger onto the field as you’ll find in a person so kind-hearted. His 2020 Gold Glove was well earned and defense remains his calling card, though he’s had a fluky uneven year in the field. Look for his iconic rasta bat.
99% sure JP's offensive production so far is fueled by the rasta bat pic.twitter.com/U9GDutNNRE— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) April 14, 2022
At the keystone, you’ll see Adam Frazier, who had a rough year thanks to an atypically low BABIP but made up for it by being the hero of Wild Card Game 2. Dylan Moore will come in to pinch hit for either Frazier or Kelenic when a lefty takes over on the mound. DMo has been the point-of-view character for this iteration of the Mariners. He committed three errors in his first appearance in 2019, but has become an elite defender at both the infield and outfield. (A diving catch saved Félix Hernández’s final start.) Since then, he’s had unfogettable moments like hitting a grand slam to beat the Astros, and making a nincompoop of José Altuve twice in the same game.
Carlos Santana will mostly DH, but might get time at first base. Since being brought over from the Royals in June, he’s brought veteran leadership that the team can’t seem to get enough of, and has hit five lead-changing home runs. It’s no coincidence that he was the spark plug to get Saturday’s comeback off the ground with a double to set up the Mariners first run and a three-run blast that got the team back in the game.
Classically saved for last, Ty France is a solid defender himself over at the cold corner. A 34th-round pick, all he ever did in the minors was hit until he couldn’t be ignored anymore. Even in the offense-happy Pacific Coast League, a .399/.477/.770 slash line is twice the league average. Now an established MLB player, he’s had a wRC+ around 130 in all three of his full seasons. His bat ranks 30th in baseball over that stretch—he might be the best player you’ve never heard of. Despite covering the inside part of the plate well, pitchers continue to attack him there (as well as low and outside), leading to a sky-high HBP rate. Stop hitting Ty France.
Seattle paid a steep price to acquire the services of Luis Castillo, but boy has he been worth it. His 7.1 innings of shutout ball in Game 1 of the Wild Card Round was one of the best performances in Seattle’s limited postseason history. He does it with a four-seamer that he dots on the black at 99, but he’s got a four pitches he uses more than 20% of the time, any one of which could get you out. You’ve heard of Luis Castillo.
Taken in back-to-back first rounds of the draft, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby are terrorizing the league with their command-centric, fastball-heavy approaches. Logan gets his results thanks to the best extension in the league, which helps his excellent four-seamer play even better. He’s a cerebral, unassuming gentle giant, but if he gets a big out, you might see his alter ego, affectionately known to teammates and fans as Walter (W for Win + “alter”). It’s also important to know that Gilbert and Raleigh came up together, had a fulcrum conversation one day (“The Truth Meeting”), and now live together, with Cal making Logan breakfast every day.
Chas McCormick, you just got Walter'd pic.twitter.com/tjfmqPVsGH— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) July 29, 2022
Kirby is a command artist, with the fifth lowest walk rate among pitchers who threw as much as he did. But don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s a soft tosser. He can hit 99 with his fastball and added a deadly two-seamer thanks to Robbie Ray’s mentorship. He uses both to facilitate his 25% strikeout rate. You’re more likely to see Kirby out of the pen in the short ALDS, but if the Mariners advance, he’ll almost certainly get a start.
Speaking of Robbie Ray, he got the biggest free-agent deal of the Dipoto era. He hasn’t repeated his Cy Young performance, but he has kept the command improvements he made last year. After struggling early in the year, he decided to start regularly using his two-seamer for the first time since 2016, which saved his season. What’s remarkable is that he made the decision in the middle of a game. That conversation was caught on camera without anyone knowing how consequential it was at the time. I regret making fun of it.
I find Cal's shoulder-shrugging after Servais walks away very relatable. I had the exact same conversation with my boss today. "Yes, I agree this is a problem. What do you want ME to do about it?" pic.twitter.com/V21N9gyQJO— Action Zach (@RealZachMason) June 7, 2022
And though you won’t see them make starts, you need to know how important Marco Gonzales and Chris Flexen have been to get the club here. They piled up quality start after quality start, and formed the most reliable Nos. 5-6 starters in MLB.
Seattle’s bullpen is known as Los Bomberos, Spanish for “The Firemen.” It speaks to the character of both the team and the person that the 21-year-old Andrés Muñoz came up with the term and it was embraced by the rest of the unit. He’s the showstopper out there, with his 93-mph slider and 103-mph heater. Edwin Díaz has been in a league of his own this year, but after him, nobody in baseball has a higher K%-BB% than Muñoz.
Manager Scott Servais has usually turned to converted starter Matt Brash to take the ball if a starter needs to be pulled mid-inning in a close game. Brash didn’t have great command as a starter, but he gets more break on his slider than anyone in baseball (a fact, not hyperbole). He’s especially deadly if he listens to Cal. Before this conversation, he was striking out less than a batter an inning and worked a 6.75 ERA. After, he struck out 13.14 per nine innings and allowed an ERA of 2.14.
Cal Raleigh saying “DONT SHAKE” is the energy I am here for pic.twitter.com/yY8YT9Tir8— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) July 30, 2022
The other high leverage situations will be handled by Erik Swanson and Paul Sewald. Seattle doesn’t carry a lefty specialist becaue they can use righty Swanson and his splitter to get out southpaws—or anyone else, as he’s rocking a top-ten K%-BB%. The eminently relatable Sewald, the People’s Pitcher, has gotten more save opportunities than anyone else. He’s an evangelist for Seattle’s pitching development and brings Big Dad Energy and a Hulk Hands celebration to his biggest moments.
Paul Sewald, 94mph Paint...and pitching with pic.twitter.com/1Rhg4yhbuI— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 2, 2021
In lower leverage situations, you’ll find Matt Festa and Penn Murfee, both of whom almost missed the roster but have made themselves indispensable. If Festa finishes off a game, look for his ::pinched fingers/pizza-di-pasta emoji:: celebration. Murfee refused to call himself a prospect, saying he signed for “a candy bar and a plane ticket.” But watching his Count Dracula lean-in before he comes set is a reminder to never give up on your dreams.
And if the sweat really starts dripping, the Mariners will call on Diego Castillo, whose twitchy behavior on the mound belies his utter unflappability. He memorably loaded the bases only to strike out Pete Alonso and secure a one-run victory in a May trip to Queens. And that’s his whole vibe.
mariners fans: OMG!! DIEGO! Dominican Big Boss! YESSSSS!— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) July 14, 2022
diego castillo: [is functionally asleep] pic.twitter.com/tDfABvcoFv
So much more could be said, but at 2,500 words I’ll leave it there. If you want a deep dive on the franchise history, there’s no better source than John Bois and Alex Rubenstein’s 2020 YouTube documentary. For a quicker look at the players and why you should love them, check out Prominent Mariners Fan Brittney Bush Bollay’s Twitter thread. And for everything else, I’m sure our commenters, among the most active in Sports Blog Nation, will fill in the gaps below.