They are superstar-free. They have no dominant personalities.
They remain last in MLB in batting average. Their one stat leader is Ty France, tied for most times hit by pitch (16). They have lost games 16-1 and 12-1. They have been no-hit twice. They have had two episodes of COVID-19 that cost games from contributors. They have used 54 players, the MLB high, because of a heavily populated injury list. They are the only team to lose a pitcher to a bogus suspension for the revised enforcement on banned grip aids.
And Monday against the best team in the American League, the Houston Astros, the Mariners will give modestly regarded pitcher Darren McCaughan (muh-KAK-en) his first major league start — the 11th player this season with an MLB debut — because, well, the next choice is an Amazon delivery driver.
Asked to explain this odd universe, Marco Gonzales, the winning pitcher in Sunday’s 4-3 victory (box) that provided a 3-1 series triumph over a good Oakland A’s outfit (56-45), was mostly stumped as to how the Mariners are 54-46, a seasonal high-water mark of eight over .500.
“It’s tough to say, you know?” he said after going 5.2 innings and 105 pitches, giving up two runs on four hits. “We’re trying not to look around too much. We’re just putting our heads down, going to work.
“We got a good group that really sticks together. It’s different guys every day that step up. It’s really just hard to pinpoint what’s been working.”
Gonzales wasn’t being very boring. It is hard to explain. The Mariners are a team that scares no one.
Just don’t get them in a clinch in a corner. They are an MLB-best 23-8 in one-run games, meaning they are masters at winning TKOs on cuts.
Look at the three victories over the A’s.
The winning runs in the first two came on walk-off wild pitches, and the decider Sunday (a game in which they had no extra-base hits) was provided by a third-inning blooper from Tom Murphy that lunging CF Ramon Laureano caught, but lost when he failed to close his glove around the baseball.
There is no proven methodology to accumulate eight walk-off wins already, but having the opponent unaccountably screw up is a major assist.
Still, 100 games in, the Mariners edge awkwardly to the deep end of the pool, thinking they can swim. They picked up two games on the A’s, who hold at the moment the fifth and final American League playoff berth by 1.5 games.
Yes, it is merely late July. But released (temporarily?) from the pandemic’s constraints, Mariners fans clutch happily at straws in their 44-year wander in the baseball desert.
“Great series,” said manager Scott Servais. “It doesn’t really get much better than that against a real quality opponent. I can’t say enough about the grit, the effort, or whatever word you want to throw out there. Our guys showed up and played their tails off all weekend.”
Two words that tend to get thrown out about this time of the season are run differential. The Mariners entered the day ranked 23rd, at a minus-53. The A’s were eighth, at plus-40. The Dodgers led at plus-145, three ahead of Houston.
That suggests that the Mariners have been recipients of good baseball fortune, and are likely to regress toward the mean in August and September.
The reason run differential gets brought up now is because the MLB trade deadline is Friday, one route to help forestall regression.
Entering the season, there was little indication the Mariners at the trade deadline would do anything more than what they’ve typically done under general manager Jerry Dipoto — sell. The notion of non-contention was amplified when they lost LHP James Paxton, CF Kyle Lewis and 1B Evan White to injuries.
But the contra-indications since have run strong. Dipoto has to decide whether he owes it to Servais, the staff, the players as well as the fans to trade some of his prospects capital for shorter-term veterans such as a starting pitcher or a second baseman, the two most obvious needs.
Prices are always higher at mid-season, especially this year after injuries to so many front-line players have disrupted the summer. Action picked up Sunday when the dead-ender Pirates reportedly traded All-Star 2B Adam Frazier, 29 and MLB’s hits leader, to San Diego for three prospects.
Frazier was mentioned in reports as a possibility for Seattle, especially since his contract extends through 2022. Now he’s off the table. No one knows whether Dipoto was out-bid, nor whether he was serious in a recent interview when he said he was ready to help this year’s team.
As with any manager, Servais made clear his position.
“Every team is probably going to add something,” he said. “I hope we add something. I guess that’s the best way I can put it. I don’t know what that’s going to be.”
The Mariners, who had reliever Casey Sadler return from the injured list Saturday, likely will get back this week reliever Hector Santiago from suspension, and OF Jake Fraley from the covid protocol. None of the moves will impress the Astros, who could easily deal Seattle a three-game sweep to take the fizz out of the incipient drama.
Nevertheless, Servais, his coaches and players have done their parts to extract close to the maximum success from the available resources, although no one has solved for the riddle of Jarred Kelenic, hitting .104.
They deserve more than having to resort to plunging rookie McCaughan into the fire of MLB’s best-hitting team. Dipoto has to swing for this season, at least to give Gonzales talking points.