Mariners' surge comes at the perfect time

September 1st, 2022

DETROIT -- The Mariners came into Comerica Park this week riding momentum. They saw an opportunity to capitalize against a last-place team. And they conquered their way to a three-game sweep with a dominant 7-0 victory over the Tigers on Thursday afternoon. 

No team in baseball will diminish their opposition, but this series -- their ninth sweep of the year -- very much had a take-care-of-business feel, especially as the calendar flipped to September and the possibility of snapping a 20-year playoff drought inches closer. 

Seattle surged to a commanding 15 games above .500, and with Tampa Bay idle, the club climbed into a tie for the top AL Wild Card spot, the all-important seed among non-division winners that will host the best-of-three Wild Card Series.

With just 31 games remaining and the AL West firmly in Houston’s grasp, the unquestioned objective over these final weeks will be to lock up home playoff games for a fan base starved for October baseball. And the Mariners believe they’re on the right trajectory to do so.

“I think we're getting better. I think that’s the best way to put it,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “You've often heard me talk about, ‘It doesn't matter; get better.’ We're getting better at the right time. ... That's what makes me excited, and the guys are excited to come to the ballpark every day because I don't think we've reached our ceiling yet -- and it's a really high one.”

The Mariners’ methodology this week in Detroit was an extension of their success in late August -- slug, and more slug.

and crushed back-to-back solo homers in the third inning, capping the club’s seven-homer series. That followed an August in which Seattle ranked second in the AL with 39 home runs, the Mariners' most in a month since June 2019 when they were an all-or-nothing offense in the first year of the rebuild. Seattle has won 11 of its past 15 while out-homering opponents 25-6 in that span.

The Tigers are not close to the ilk that the Mariners would see in the postseason, but nonetheless, Seattle’s lineup is showing returns for what the front office has long envisioned, and it’s coming together at an opportune time. 

Some reasons why: 

  • Rodríguez has emerged as an impressive leadoff bat, the imposing combination of power and speed. He’s eight homers and seven steals away from a 30-30 season. 
  • France has seemingly figured things out after a brutal August, his homer on Thursday being an all-encapsulating example
  • has re-established himself as an All-Star-caliber power threat, hitting .277/.333/.436 (.770 OPS) since returning from the IL on Aug. 6. He barely missed his fifth homer in the seventh inning. 
  • 's nine August homers tied Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado for the MLB high in the month.
  • has already crushed 20 homers in his first big league season. 
  • And, just as important, role players have chipped in.  has become a fan favorite for producing in key moments -- and even the inconsequential, such as his acrobatic heroics into the netting on Thursday. and  sparked Wednesday’s come-from-behind win.

“Ty France is better right now than he was a few weeks ago,” Servais said. “We've got a number of guys that are trending -- I’ll use Julio’s line, 'trending in the right direction.' And that's a really good sign.”

Just as vital to Thursday’s victory was a dominant -- and turnaround -- start from , who blew his fastball past the Tigers for most of the afternoon while striking out a career-high-tying nine. 

Gilbert, who had a 5.26 ERA and allowed an opposing .858 OPS in nine starts since his last win on July 5, surrendered two hits (both singles) and one walk. Because the Mariners had built such a lead, Servais was able to pull him after six shutout innings at just 84 pitches. Gilbert is in uncharted territory, at a career-high 155 2/3 innings, and Thursday allowed him a proverbial breather compared to a higher-stress outing.

“August wasn't my best, but I felt pretty good,” Gilbert said. “I didn’t feel like I was far off, if that makes sense, and hopefully this is just a good sign to keep rolling from here.”

Up next is a weekend three-gamer in Cleveland, home to the AL Central-leading Guardians, who the Mariners took two of three from last weekend in Seattle.