The playoff push has begun for the Mariners.
You mean the Major League Baseball playoffs?
For the Seattle Mariners?
Isn’t this supposed to be a developmental year?
Well, 2020 has proved to be anything but normal or predictable in sports or life. And following that trend of unexpected or unthinkable developments, the Mariners have a postseason pulse that’s something stronger than faint in a season where some fans wanted them to lose as many games as possible for the chance to take Vanderbilt’s stud pitcher Kumal Rocker with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft.
Following four days of dominance over the cratering Texas Rangers, including Monday’s 8-4 drubbing at T-Mobile Park, which completed a four-game sweep and extended their season-high win streak to six games, the Mariners have forced themselves into a final sprint for a spot in the expanded playoffs of this odd 2020 season.
Thanks to a two-week stretch where they’ve played their best baseball of this truncated season, winning 11 of 14 games, the Mariners, now 19-22, left Seattle for a five-game road trip just 2 1/2 games behind the second-place Houston Astros, who were playing the A’s later Monday evening.
While in normal seasons, challenging for second in their division with a record hovering near .500 wouldn’t mean much, the expanded playoff plan of 16 teams gives Seattle hope. Eight teams from the American League will qualify for the postseason – the top two teams from each division will get spots along with two wild-card teams with the best remaining records.
Mariners ace Marco Gonzales is a big reason for this run of success both in performance and leadership of the young pitching staff.
Gonzales pitched seven innings, allowing two runs on four hits with no walks and seven strikeouts to improve to 5-2.
In eight starts this season, Gonzales has pitched 50 2/3 innings, allowing 17 earned runs for a 3.02 ERA with four walks and 46 strikeouts. He’s pitched 6-plus innings in five of those eight starts and he was held to a 75-pitch limit in his first outing of the season. He is averaging 0.7 walks per nine innings and has an 11.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Mariners broadcaster Gary Hill pointed out that while Gonzales has walked only four batters this season, there have been 118 times this season where a pitcher issued four walks in an outing.
Gonzales seemed to have no-hit stuff and command in the first few innings. He cruised through the first three innings in order, needing 11 pitches in each.
The Mariners staked him to a quick three-run lead against Ranger starter Kolby Allard, who has not had much success against Seattle this season. For the second straight day, Kyle Seager clubbed a homer in his first at-bat of the game, sending a two-run blast into the cardboard cutouts in deep right-center in the first inning. It was Seager’s seventh homer of the season and pushed his team-high RBI total to 30.
In the third inning, Dylan Moore offered another example of his power surge this season, crushing a leadoff homer deep into the area known as ‘The Pen.’ Per MLB Statcast, Moore’s sixth homer of the season measured 425 feet and had an exit speed of 109 mph.
Gonzales struck out Leody Taveras to start the fourth inning for his 10th straight batter retired. But his only rough patch in the outing followed. He gave up back-to-back singles to Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Shin-Soo Choo. After retiring Nick Solak with a fly ball, Gonzales left a 1-0 sinker over the middle of the plate that Joey Gallo hammered into the gap in right-center to score two runs that cut Seattle’s lead to 3-2.
But the Mariners turned that one-run lead into a six-run lead in the very next inning against Allard. With two outs and the bases loaded, Moore smoked a line drive down the left-field line to score all three runners. Two batters later, Ty France singled to left off Jimmy Hergert, scoring two more runs, both charged to Allard, who was on the hook for all eight runs Seattle scored. In two starts against Allard, Seattle has scored 12 runs against the young lefty.