Return of Seattle's studs fuels Servais' 500th win

August 13th, 2022

ARLINGTON -- At long last, this is exactly what the Mariners hoped their lineup would look like. And perhaps not coincidentally in a 6-2 victory over the Rangers on Friday, Seattle also steered from its one-run-win formula with the type of late-inning mettle that, at least until now, was mostly uncharacteristic. 

For the first time in 105 days, Julio Rodríguez, Ty France and Mitch Haniger were all in Seattle’s starting lineup, and their production showed just how valuable their presence will be over the next two months and beyond. And as the Mariners advanced to a season-high 10 games over .500 (62-52), the lower lineup went for the jugular. 

Clinging to a trademark one-run lead into the eighth, J.P. Crawford added a critical insurance run via a 304-foot sacrifice fly, then Eugenio Suárez tacked on a two-run double in the ninth to push Seattle to its ninth straight win over Texas and 12th in 14 meetings this year. Those were the highlights, but they were only made possible by all the late-inning traffic.

For a team that leads MLB with 27 wins in one-run games, did Friday's game offer a sign -- with a deeper lineup -- of things to come?

“I hope so,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais, who picked up his 500th career managerial win. “Those one-run games get a little stressful.”

Seattle supplanted Toronto for the top AL Wild Card spot, and its playoff odds, per FanGraphs, rose further above 90 percent.

“I feel like we’ve got enough to compete against anybody right now,” Rodríguez said. “And that's just the truth. I feel like we’ve got some really good players on this team, and we’ve got people that just go out there every night to compete, so it feels really good to have everybody [healthy] in the lineup.”

Back after missing 11 games with a right wrist contusion, Rodríguez hit a two-run single up the middle with the bases loaded as part of a 2-for-4 night. But his most jaw-dropping contribution was one that didn’t impact the outcome -- a 400-foot shot into the fourth deck that barely hooked foul before an eventual flyout in the sixth. He also laced a 109.3 mph single in his first at-bat, and the collective effort allowed him to easily put the recovery behind him.

The Mariners went a respectable 6-5 with Rodríguez sidelined, yet over his past 30 games, they are 25-5, over which he has a .982 OPS with 10 homers and 29 RBIs.

Haniger went 3-for-5, with his biggest contribution coming on a remarkable double play that bailed George Kirby out of the second inning. The right fielder covered 54 feet in 4.1 seconds and converted on a play that Statcast projected had just a 35% catch probability, then he heaved a 96.2 mph throw to France at first base to double-up Nathaniel Lowe. It was the hardest-tracked throw of Haniger’s six-year career.

Rodríguez is the AL Rookie of the Year favorite, but before Haniger went down with a Grade 2 high ankle sprain on April 29 -- the last time they were in the same lineup -- he was arguably the Mariners’ best offensive player. On the heels of a 39-homer season, Haniger is 10-for-22 since being activated from the IL on Saturday, underscoring just how valuable he can be and how much he’s been missed.

France, perhaps Seattle's most consistent hitter, went 0-for-5, but one of his groundouts led to an RBI in the third. Even with more shortcomings than typical, the first-time All-Star still chipped in.

The Mariners’ blueprint this year has been pitching and defense, which was also a big component on Friday, with Kirby coming one out shy of completing the sixth inning, and Matt Brash, Andrés Muñoz and Erik Swanson allowing a combined two hits and zero runs the rest of the way. But run support, which has often eluded Seattle’s pitchers, was a breath of fresh air.

“When I woke up and I saw the lineup today, I was super excited,” said Kirby, who surrendered seven hits (all singles) and has a 2.25 ERA in his past six starts. “Having Mitch back in there is huge. Julio back in the lineup was tough for those guys tonight. We have a really good lineup.”

The Mariners pointedly didn’t deal for a big bat at the Trade Deadline because they believed that, when finally healthy, they’d be far deeper and more productive. To be sure, Monday’s win was against a fledgling Rangers team and not one of the ilk among those they’d see in October, and it wasn’t just about getting healthy, but also staying healthy.

Yet the first look at the Mariners’ bats at full strength in more than three months showed why they’ve been so optimistic about finally reaching this point.