Mariners' rotation a 'tough draw' for opponents

May 25th, 2024

A quick scan of the Mariners’ lineup shows a number of hitters struggling to get things going in 2024.

Cal Raleigh leads the club with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs, but no other Seattle hitter has more than six homers and Mitch Haniger is the only other to drive in 20-plus runs.

The American League offensive rankings back up the individual numbers. Seattle ranks tied for 13th in runs scored (192), 12th in OPS (.667) and last in strikeouts (530), scoring two-or-fewer runs in 19 of its first 52 games.

No run production? No problem.

Despite their early-season offensive malaise, the Mariners entered Memorial Day weekend atop the AL West, their 27-25 record good enough for a three-game lead on the defending World Series champion Rangers.

“Their lineup is deeper than it’s shown,” an AL executive said, noting the slow starts for Julio Rodríguez, Mitch Garver, J.P Crawford and Jorge Polanco. “They’re not scoring a lot of runs, but once that lineup starts to click, they’re going to be really good.”

Seattle’s pitching staff has carried much of the load to this point, ranking sixth in the AL with a 3.61 ERA. The starting rotation ranks fifth (3.62) while the bullpen ranks sixth (3.77), holding opponents to three-or-fewer runs 27 times.

Four Mariners starters -- Logan Gilbert, Luis Castillo, Bryce Miller and George Kirby (entering Friday) -- have an ERA below 4.00, while Bryan Woo has allowed one run over three starts (0.59 ERA). Thanks to the pitching staff, Seattle is 9-4 in one-run games this season.

“That rotation is really good,” the AL executive said. “That’s a tough draw no matter which three you’re facing."

The Mariners snapped their 22-year playoff drought in 2022, then won 88 games last year, missing out on the final Wild Card spot last year by only one game. They have an opportunity to bolster their record over the next two weeks, taking on the Nationals, Astros, Angels and Athletics in their next 13 games -- four teams with a combined .420 winning percentage.

“That rotation is legit and they seem to know how to do what it takes to win games,” a National League executive said. “I don’t think they’re going anywhere.”

Something’s Brewin’

Milwaukee’s February trade of Corbin Burnes to the Orioles for DL Hall and Joey Ortiz led many to lower expectations for the Brewers, whose offseason acquisitions included Rhys Hoskins, Joe Ross, Jakob Junis and Gary Sánchez.

Nobody would argue that the Brewers are better without Burnes, but Milwaukee’s 29-21 start has them holding a 2.5-game lead on the Cubs in the NL Central entering the holiday weekend.

The offense has thrived this season, ranking behind only the Phillies and Dodgers in runs scored in the NL. The Brewers also rank third in homers, steals and OPS, getting contributions up and down the lineup.

William Contreras is having a career year (eight homers, 42 RBIs, .950 OPS in 50 games), while Christian Yelich (.985 OPS), Ortiz (.872), Hoskins (.814) and Brice Turang (.769) are having solid seasons.

“That’s a scary deep lineup to face,” an AL executive said. “On the surface, you don’t expect it by the names, but they’re tough. They’re a tough team to pitch to.”

The Brewers have a tough two-week stretch ahead that includes 10 games against the Red Sox, Cubs and Phillies. Hall, Ross and Junis are on the IL, while All-Star closer Devin Williams isn’t expected back until late July. Then there’s Wade Miley (out for the season after Tommy John surgery) and Brandon Woodruff (shoulder surgery), the latter of whom is no lock to return before the end of the season.

“They still have a lot of good arms and they’ve survived injuries in their rotation in the past,” an NL executive said. “It will be fascinating to see if they can keep it up, but I think they will.”

Pitching in

We’ll forgive you if you haven’t noticed, but Austin Gomber and Cal Quantrill are quietly putting together solid seasons in Colorado, two of the few bright spots for a Rockies pitching staff that ranks last in the NL with a 5.18 ERA.

Gomber (2.76 ERA, 8th in the NL) and Quantrill (3.59, 24th) have done their jobs, each of them ranking in the top 20 in innings pitched.

Both the 30-year-old Gomber (one of the key pieces in the February 2021 Nolan Arenado trade) and 29-year-old Quantrill (acquired from the Guardians last November) are under control through 2025, giving the Rockies controllable pitching to potentially shop prior to this summer’s Trade Deadline.

“They have pitched a lot better than anyone would notice because of where the Rockies are in the standings,” an AL executive said. “Those guys would help contenders looking for mid-level rotation help.”

After experiencing success in Cleveland from 2020-22, Quantrill endured a difficult 2023 (4-7, 5.24 ERA in 19 starts) and was dealt after the season. He’s still throwing his sinker roughly 40% of the time, but the key for him this season has been the emergence of his splitter, which he’s throwing 33.3% of the time as compared to just 12.3% in 2023 -- the first season he utilized the pitch.

Opponents are slashing just .147/.190/.189 against Quantrill’s splitter, all significantly down from last year (.241/.262/.362). His 49.4% ground-ball rate is the best of his career.

“I think it's a better splitter now than it was last year,” Quantrill said. “Low-spin pitches probably are less affected by altitude. When my splitter is good … I don't see as much as drastic an effect.”

Quantrill first started tinkering with the splitter while pitching for the Padres in 2020, first noticing the grip used by teammate David Bednar. He kept fiddling with it in Cleveland, where teammate Trevor Stephen helped him work on the pitch. The one thing he learned through all of it? Splitter grips are like snowflakes; no two are alike.

“It’s a pretty individual pitch,” Quantrill said. “There's 20 good ones in baseball right now and I bet 15 of us throw it differently.”