3 keys for the Mariners to get back in the ALDS

Getting the 'pen on track and generating more power can help Seattle overcome its 0-2 hole

October 15th, 2022

SEATTLE -- The anticipation was palpable when the Mariners returned to Seattle for the first time since these playoffs began. T-Mobile Park was decorated with postseason knick knacks for the first time that most in the building can remember and the city is abuzz.

Yet, lingering over that anticipation is the reality that Saturday’s Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Astros will be played with the Mariners' season on the line.

As such, Seattle finds itself in unfavorable territory. In LDS history with the current 2-2-1 format, teams winning both Games 1 and 2 in their home ballparks have advanced 30 of 33 times (91%), with 19 finishing off the sweep in Game 3. Comebacks aren’t unprecedented, but it is rare and hasn’t happened since 2017.

The Mariners aren’t done yet, and there are a few ways they can get back into this series:

1) Avoid Alvarez at all costs
Yordan Alvarez single-handedly downed the Mariners in Games 1 and 2 with back-breaking, late-innings homers that gave Houston the lead in each for good. His presence has become so daunting that manager Scott Servais intentionally walked the slugger with Jeremy Peña on first base in the eighth inning on Thursday, making Alvarez the first hitter since Barry Bonds to receive that treatment.

And even that move was costly, as Alex Bregman immediately followed with an RBI knock that allowed Peña to score easily. There’s no easy answer in how to approach Alvarez, who hit .355/.440/.677 (1.118 OPS) in his final 26 games of the regular season and is 4-for-8 in this series with zero strikeouts.

“You have to take what your pitcher on the mound has that particular day and what pitch he controls the best,” Servais said. “You can just say, ‘Oh, just throw them all offspeed pitches.' Well, that doesn't always work either, if you leave one in the bad part of the plate. Or just throw them all fastballs. Whatever pitches you can control the best, try to get in the right spots, and then go from there. And if you get behind in the count or if it doesn't work out, you roll on by and go to the next guy.”

The bigger key is to limit the damage around him. Alvarez has stepped to the plate in half his plate appearances with runners on and three times driven runs in.

“I think that's the big thing, just make sure nobody's on base when he gets up,” catcher Cal Raleigh said. “So that means don’t walk anybody, attack hitters, which is kind of something we've been doing all year long. You always want to attack guys, no free bases.”

2) Get the bullpen back on track
Seattle’s relievers enter Saturday with an 8.25 ERA in 12 innings, by far the highest among playoff teams, and opposing hitters are slashing .292/.397/.479 (.876 OPS), the highest in every category among teams still standing. It’s an alarming trend given how that group has been a huge catalyst in why the Mariners are here.

Beyond the numbers, it’s been their highest-leverage relievers who have been tagged. Had the Mariners not manufactured their epic comeback in Toronto, Paul Sewald’s four runs would have loomed even larger. He also put the two baserunners on just before Robbie Ray was called on for the cataclysmic walk-off in Game 1.

Andrés Muñoz has also stumbled, with runs allowed in each of the first two games of this series, something he’d done in consecutive games only once all season in 64 outings. It’s also possible that the Mariners could be pitching an arm short if they don’t feel confident in using Ray again. Either way, with every contest an elimination game now, the hook will be short for starters -- putting a ton of the onus on the ‘pen.

3) Live by the long ball
Selling out for power isn’t necessarily a sound approach and certainly not the one that got the Mariners here. But they also recognize that, in order to win three in a row, they're going to need homers. Entering Friday, teams to out-homer opponents are 8-4, and not coincidentally, 43.3% of all runs have been scored via homers, up from 39.8% in the regular season.

Seattle has hit four in four playoff games so far, and none in Thursday’s loss. In the small sample of just 159 plate appearances, the Mariners are slashing .268/.340/.458 (.798 OPS) this postseason, way up from their regular season line of .230/.315/.390 (.705 OPS). But taking a page out of the Astros’ book and giving Alvarez a taste of his own medicine will be vital to even this up.

“We continue to grind through their starting pitching, and when you do that, good things usually happen,” Servais said. “Ultimately, you need to get the big hit. And we just weren't able to get that yesterday. But up and down the lineup, it's been really good."