The Mariners have finished up the first half and, well, it hasn’t gone as we might have hoped it would. That being said, it actually hasn’t been as bad as it’s felt at times, as Zach’s first half chart might have shown you, and the Mariners at least finished the first half strong, ending with an exclamation point in a series win over the Astros at Minute Maid Park, traditionally a house of horrors for the Mariners and their fans. Now it’s time to peer into our crystal balls and predict what might happen the rest of the way.
Mariners record over the rest of the season: (73 games total)
To confess: I initially had this higher, and kept coaxing myself into talking it down to a more reasonable number, but each time I tried to rejigger it, I just kept talking myself out of it. The road trip against Minnesota-Arizona after this long homestand is the one where I am tempted to bump this down to a 39-34, but I feel like any series loss there–and I’m not sure if they will be series losses–can be made up for by a sweep, although I’m not betting on it. Mostly I see a lot of teams coming down the stretch that the Mariners could beat if they continue playing like they did coming into this All-Star Break: grinding out at-bats against tough pitchers and the offense doing enough to keep them in it.
Evan: 43 - 30
The Mariners feel like the offense is on the verge of a (slight) breakout. Doesn’t mean they are destined to win 14 in a row again, but their collective approach at the plate has improved too drastically for me to assume it won’t show up in the record, even if it’s not as much of a difference as I want. I believe the team started slow, but is better than their record. How much better? Well, I’ve predicted them to go +13, essentially winning 60% of their games the rest of the way. But is it enough for playoffs…
This is a quality clip to conclude the year at, and if they can swing it they’ll be right in the thick of the playoff hunt. A major challenge for the Seattle Mariners is how to improve this roster to keep pace where their competitors will be making moves. The limitations of Seattle’s lineup are not currently from the big holes, as Mike Ford and Jose Caballero have been steady, but they are extreme risks to rely on lastingly. Likewise, the rotation’s brilliance balances on a precipice, with no clear next man up besides Tommy Milone, and yes this is a present wariness still of Emerson Hancock.
Zach M: 41-32
When I looked at this team before the season, I saw what was otherwise a .500 squad buoyed by Julio Rodríguez and Luis Castillo. That’s like a 90-win team. The upgrades to my estimation (J.P., Woo, Caballero) and the downgrades (Wong, Julio, Cal) more or less wash out. So a 90-win pace it remains, which works out to 40.5 wins. I round up because I have a sunny disposition.
That’s right…I am willing to get hurt again. I was definitely drinking the Kool-Aid before the season, and I stand here after a very successful Mariners road trip and can’t help but think something has changed. I fully expect them to reinforce the MLB roster and at least make things interesting down the stretch. My chief concern is the workload of the starters, as I don’t know how much more we will get from Bryan Woo and Bryce Miller, which means we will likely be calling on…Emerson Hancock? Tommy Milone? Not a big fan of that notion.
I do think the offensive bump we saw before the break will stick around and we’ll see more bats alive per game than we did in the first half. However, I echo Ders in concern about the pitching. It’s wild to say, because I am very high on the M’s pitching (Gilbert especially), but I agree with Ders that there’s not a good answer in terms of rotation depth when Woo and Miller’s innings get limited, and I’m picturing some unpleasant games.
Which AL West competitors drop out and which surge ahead? AL West competitors records over the rest of the season:
Kate: The Rangers pitching is finally starting to show some cracks, but I think they’re going to bounce back from that. A good offense covers up so many flaws. I think they go over .500 for the rest of their schedule, which isn’t especially punishing, and maintain command of the division. Houston’s problems aren’t quite so easily fixed; their pitching hasn’t been its old dominant self and offensively they just don’t seem to have the same spark. Alex Bregman could turn it around at any moment though, and assuming they get Altuve and Álvarez back with no other hiccups, they’ll make things very difficult for the Mariners to climb up in the ALW. I see them going just a hair over .500 the rest of the way, which if the Mariners match my pie-in-the-sky hopes above, means the Mariners should be able to leapfrog them, but if the Mariners play at the Astros’ level or below, they won’t be able to make up ground lost earlier this season. The Angels, however, I believe are hosed. Not only are they beat up, they have the fifth-hardest strength of schedule heading down this second half, while Seattle and Houston both have relatively easy ones, and of course, will have to survive the same AL West gauntlet against those two teams and Texas.
Rough numbers: TEX 39-34, HOU 37-36, LAA 33-40
Evan: Without being specific I think the Rangers are (regrettably) for real, the Angels are going to fall apart and be washed away and the Astros will hang around with a better record than the Mariners despite feeling stuck in neutral.
Evan’s Second Half Predictions:
TEX: 49 - 34, HOU: 40 - 33, LAA: 30 - 43, OAK: LOL
John: Anaheim is, to put it bluntly, boned. I am not sure they are as craterous as Evan lines them up but there’s simply no way they can trade just Shohei Ohtani, yet Trout is likely not to be back before the All-Star Break. Could they trade *both* of them? To me that is the more pertinent question.
Zach M: I didn’t believe in the Rangers pitching before the season and with DeGrom now actually out (as opposed to “a good bet to miss time” at the start of the year), I believe in them less than ever. To be sure, having 52 wins banked goes a long way, so I’m only willing to commit to saying that I see them doing worse in the second half than the first. I won’t go so far as to bet that they miss the playoffs. I take no pleasure in reporting that the Astros are still the Astros, and will win the division.
Anders: I’ll echo the doubt in the Rangers pitching staff, though they are well equipped to add an impact starter at the deadline (Lucas Giolito?). I also think people are counting out the Red Sox, who still have a very good roster, especially their lineup, and are sitting in a position to make a second half run. They could be a factor outside the division that impacts the Mariners.
Breakout second half star for the Mariners:
I will never not bet on Julio. That walk he took in the All-Star Game was a sign of an overall improved offensive approach over these last couple of weeks.
Evan: Julio. I think Cal has a better second half (relative to the first) but “breakout” is probably too strong. I think George pitches even better while Bryce and Bryan continue to be roughly as good as they’ve been. Long term I also think Teoscar and Eugenio disappoint with their final numbers.
Zach M: We’ve discussed this several times, but Eugenio Suárez’s walk rate, strikeout rate, and BABIP are all within the norms for his good seasons. His barrel rate is only slightly down even though his launch angle is the same and his average exit velocity is up. I think his luck balances out. Also, I do not see J.P. being better in the second half, but he has kept his offensive improvements over a long enough period, and they’re backed up by real process changes, to the point that I believe he’s now a 115 wRC+ true talent instead of the 100 guy I had in my head before.
Trades: How many? How big? Targeting what?
Kate: Everyone loves to talk trades but I think the Mariners—and other teams—will hold out until the 11th hour of the trade deadline, and then everyone will jump at once. I don’t think the Mariners have the trade pieces to get something huge done, though, so I don’t think it’ll be a blockbuster—more along the lines of a rental bat, like an Edwin Encarnación or Carlos Santana type acquisition. Which is frustrating because you could have just had Carlos Santana this whole year. But I digress.
Evan: Nothing of nearly enough consequence for me to care. Forced to pick an answer: Speier seems destined to be traded.
Zach M: There are way too many teams in the race or close enough to it. That both limits supply and increases demand. That’s not a market that a smart person wants to participate in.
Next Mariner to make their MLB debut:
Kate: I hold out hope for Jake Scheiner to come up and pummel some baseballs but I also want Mike Ford to keep on trucking.
Evan: Prelander? Lazy but true answer. Zach Deloach gets a look if anyone gets injured in the outfield.
Zach M: I think Prelander Berroa is the only player who’s high up on the depth chart who hasn’t seen time in the Show before. So I’m gonna say it’s Jonatan Clase, who gets a September call-up in order to be used as a pinch runner. If the Mariners do make the playoffs, he could even be the rare guy to make his MLB debut in the postseason.
Anders: I do think we see Emerson Hancock soon, struggles and all. Someone has to start eating some innings for Woo and Miller while they try to manage their workload, and I don’t think they’re going to give Milone an extended stay.
Zach M: Ders, stop trying to make Emerson Hancock happen. It’s not going to happen.
Biggest unresolved question:
Evan: Will the real Ty France please stand up? In previous seasons when fully healthy (read: before taking repeated heaters to the wrist) Ty France’s wRC+ has been between 140 and 160. This season, despite being allegedly healthy, he sits at a paltry (for him) 108. The BABIP is actually up, but the slugging is WAY down. The defense has also looked inconsistent, albeit mostly fine this season. Is he actually more injured than we realize now that he’s taken over the Tim Locastro role as league leader in HBP? Is it fair to ever expect him to be fully healthy while this is going on? Is he just having a down year or do we have real reason to think his talent level is closer to today than it was at his previous peaks? If the Mariners are going to the postseason this year, they need Ty France to hit like Ty France, and not like who he has been so far.
Kate: Consistency. Can this team show up and be the same team every day? It’s been so frustrating to watch this team stop and start all season, and once they finally start stringing together good games—even the losses over those series wins, other than the Tampa Bay meltdown, were solidly competitive losses where the offense showed up as a unit—it’s the All-Star Break. I’m really hoping we don’t have a summer setback after this mini-vacation where the offense forgets all the good progress they made over the past couple of weeks.
They can’t keep getting away with this! …Unless? (Mike Ford and Jose Caballero: sustained success?)
Zach M: I don’t think Jose Caballero hits the ball hard enough to sustain what he’s been doing. But he has absolutely shattered my expectations when it comes to pitch selection, contact ability, base-running, and defense. So I think he falls a bit but continues to be a reliable everyday player. As for Mike Ford, on the one hand, he’s made real changes that support some improvements, but on the other hand, his track record of not being an MLB-caliber DH is pretty long. I say he splits the difference between his 2023 wRC+ (160) and his career number (100). That works out to 130, which would still be dope. At bottom though, players like Caballero and Ford are lightning in a bottle–the kind of players where we should resist our analytical tendencies and just enjoy the ride.
Anders: Caballero is a great story and I do think he will be a contributor on this team for the next 3-4 years. I don’t really like him as the starting 2B as much as I’d like him as a gritty bench player who can provide a spark. For Ford, I am inclined to believe this is something. I agree with Zach that I do think he will cool off, but he is more than serviceable as the starting DH right now until promotions/trades push someone else into that role.
John: This is the biggest puzzle for a deadline trade to me, assuming Seattle is at least in it enough to continue meriting a “buy” approach. Mike Ford and Jose Caballero have performed well enough to help the M’s win, but they also occupy the most tenuous positions on the team, where prior to their arrival the club was getting an utter vacuum of performance. Seattle likely needs to upgrade upon spots they’ve recently gotten consistent production, lest it be revealed as a mirage when August arrives.