Too-early end to season has Raleigh, Mariners wanting more

October 1st, 2023

SEATTLE -- There was a surreal stillness in the home clubhouse at T-Mobile Park as Saturday afternoon faded into night.

Moments after their 6-1 loss to the Rangers, which secured Texas a playoff berth and put Seattle’s bid on life support, nearly the entire 28-man Mariners roster sat anxiously on the couches, all eyes on the two 65-inch televisions, the volume not muted but certainly not loud.

They watched as Houston battled through a tense ninth inning at Arizona but ultimately prevailed in a 1-0 victory. Even from afar, the Astros delivered the Mariners another gut punch, this one officially ending Seattle’s season by virtue of mathematics in the American League Wild Card standings. As the 27th out went final, the room scattered, mostly in silence.

“It’s a helpless feeling,” utilityman Dylan Moore said.

The Mariners recognize that Houston’s win was hardly what prevented them from playing deep into October -- rather, it was the final straw. An 11-17 record in September, a month marred by inconsistent starting pitching, issues with runners in scoring position and regularly playing from behind, proved to be their pitfall.

“At the end of the year, you don't want to have to rely on somebody else,” Julio Rodríguez said. “You want to be able to do it yourself and it's just tough. It's just tough to have to rely on somebody else to get in.”

In the opposite clubhouse, the Rangers celebrated by ending a seven-year playoff skid -- nothing close to the drought that defined the Mariners’ franchise for 21 years before Seattle finally broke through last fall.

Yet, the Rangers’ path to the postseason was drastically different from the Mariners’ intended route to get there. Texas spent nearly $800 million on free agents the past two offseasons, while the Mariners have operated on a more draft-develop-trade model.

"We've got to commit to winning,” said Cal Raleigh, who sent the Mariners to the postseason with a dramatic walk-off homer one year ago to the day. “We have to commit to going and getting those players. You see other teams going out, going for it, getting big-time pitchers, getting big-time hitters. We have to do that to keep up."

Moreover, Raleigh was frustrated when the Mariners dealt Paul Sewald to the D-backs at the Trade Deadline, a transaction that returned infielder Josh Rojas, outfielder Dominic Canzone and prospect Ryan Bliss.

“We lost a few close games, later in the game, and we could've used him,” Raleigh said of Sewald. “But that's in the past. It's not here or there right now, but you know that definitely took a toll on us, for sure.”

Raleigh may be soft-spoken, but his words have rung loudly in 2023, a season in which he led all MLB catchers in home runs for the second straight year while playing every day down the stretch at a demanding position. His production on the field and work ethic off of it have allowed him to carve out a far more prominent leadership role.

“You look over at the other locker room right there,” Raleigh said of the Rangers. “They've added more than anybody else, and you saw where it got them this year. There's more than one way to skin a cat, that's for sure. But going out and getting those big names, people who've done it, people who’ve been there, people who are leaders, people who have shown time and time again that they can be successful in this league ... would help this clubhouse, would help this team.”

In a broader view, Raleigh borrowed an oft-used phrase from manager Scott Servais that the Mariners' focus must be to “get better.”

Asked how, Raleigh said, “Looking back, I think if we can grind it out a few more games, do a little more of the small things, I think we'll become a better team. ... There are things that you can't really quantify. I know you guys hear a lot about the numbers, about the analytics, but there are a lot of things that you can't quantify, and I think that we’ve got to get better in that area, for sure.”

Raleigh didn’t discount the strides Seattle’s player development staff has taken -- after all, he’s a product of a farm system that also graduated Rodríguez, Jarred Kelenic, George Kirby, Logan Gilbert, Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo, Matt Brash and more.

“We've done a great job of growing some players here and within the farm system,” Raleigh said. “But sometimes, you have to go out and you have to buy. That's just the name of the game, and we'll see what happens this offseason. Hopefully, we can add some players and become a better team.”

Raleigh is just 26 years old but a foundational piece, and he said that he intends to share his views with management soon.

“I don’t think by any means we’re a bad team this year, but it’s not where we want to be,” Raleigh said. “We want to be getting to the World Series. We want to be making the playoffs every single year. In order to do that, some things have to change, and it starts with the players here in the clubhouse.”