SEATTLE -- The team meeting was called two Sundays ago when their season looked like it was on the cusp of an early-summer spiral. The air was cleared. Accountability was held. Communication fostered.
And in the nearly three weeks since that powwow in the home clubhouse at T-Mobile Park, coincidence or not, the Mariners have been one of the hottest teams in baseball.
Seattle soared to an 8-3 win over Toronto on Thursday at T-Mobile Park and has now won five in a row, eight of its last nine and 13 of 16, the second-most wins to only Houston’s 14 in this stretch. Beyond that introspective team meeting, players have also rallied around each other in the wake of the benches-clearing scuffle in Anaheim last month -- and the suspensions to key contributors J.P. Crawford and Jesse Winker that followed.
Seattle surged from 10 games below .500 since the day of the meeting back to even on Thursday, a standing that looked so out of reach then, especially with admitted pressing at the plate in crucial situations. Moreover, the club has climbed to within three games of the final AL Wild Card spot, currently occupied by the very team they beat Thursday. The Mariners are tied with Cleveland, also at .500, as the first teams on the outside looking in.
Did the panic alarm sound? Is there a better offensive approach? What’s been the key to this turnaround?
“I don't think the urgency has been heightened,” manager Scott Servais said. “I think guys are just getting comfortable understanding where we're at as a ballclub and what they need to do to help us win a particular game that day. It doesn't necessarily mean you’ve got to hit a home run that day or make the great outstanding play in the field or whatever -- just have good at-bats and keep the line moving.”
Speaking of, the biggest development in this run has been the lineup producing at a higher and more consistent level. In that context, the Mariners gave Toronto, an offensive juggernaut, a taste of its own medicine. Thursday’s game at times felt like Seattle was the visiting team thanks to the annual influx of fans from north of the border to see Canada’s lone club.
The Mariners didn’t give that crowd much to cheer for, especially after racing out to a six-run lead by the third inning. Seattle has now won each of its past 20 games when scoring at least four runs.
“I think [in] this last little stretch, we've just been having a great time and having so much fun playing together,” starter Marco Gonzales said. “And to watch them come out tonight and just kind of unload and have fun, especially in front of this crowd tonight, it was a joy to watch.”
Winker was serving the third game in his six-game suspension, staggered after Crawford served his four games. The Mariners have won all but one of the seven contests that they’ve been sidelined, thanks to a pass-the-baton approach.
On Thursday, Carlos Santana had his first RBIs since joining the team in a June 27 trade with Kansas City. Cal Raleigh stayed hot with a two-run homer. Eugenio Suárez was determined to bounce back from an early fielding error, making two remarkable plays in the field after and adding a solo homer in the fifth. Utilityman Dylan Moore had the wildest contribution -- one aided by some luck -- when he homered via an assist from Toronto left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who caught the ball then bobbled it over the fence.
“I think our entire dugout was just stoked because we caught a break,” Gonzales said. “I think so many times throughout the year, we feel like that ball goes the opposite way.”
Gonzales, who’s received less than two runs of support 10 times, got big backing Thursday, becoming Seattle’s latest starter to throw another quality start, the 26th since May 27 -- a stretch over which the rotation leads the Majors with a 2.80 ERA. The club’s pitching, including its bullpen, has been a strength all season.
But the bats have been considerably further behind, and even Mariners hitters acknowledge it.
“I think the energy, man. When you’re winning games, your energy goes up and your comfort is better,” Suárez said. “We knew that our pitchers -- starting pitchers and our bullpen -- have been doing a really good job. We just need this offense, and now, it looks like we can. We’re back.”
All-Star finalist Ty France returned from the 10-day injured list on Thursday and singled in trademark fashion on the first pitch he saw. Up the road, Kyle Lewis played in the third game of a rehab assignment for High-A Everett. Mitch Haniger will begin more rigorous agility exercises next week. The club has climbed back into the black, and things could look even more optimistic sooner than later.
“I like where our group is at,” Gonzales said. “I certainly don't think we have time to look at or care about the standings right now. We need to just stay focused on what we do, which is get better every day, come and compete and have fun. And I really like where our group is at in that regard.”