For first time this year, Mariners stand alone atop AL West

August 28th, 2023

SEATTLE -- As Andrés Muñoz emerged from the home bullpen on Sunday afternoon at T-Mobile Park, the final result of the Rangers’ 13th-inning loss in Minnesota had illuminated on the out-of-town scoreboard just behind him. All that separated the Mariners and sole possession of first place in the American League West were three outs.

The Mariners have been the hottest team in baseball for nearly two full months. And after Muñoz struck out the side to seal a 3-2 victory, their seismic second-half turnaround has landed them somewhere they haven’t been in two decades.

Seattle (74-56) sits atop the division all alone for the first time this late in the season since Aug. 24, 2003, when it was also through its 130th game.

and carried over the club’s historic power barrage from the day prior, twirled seven scoreless innings, Muñoz picked up his eighth save since the club traded Paul Sewald and the Mariners completed their seventh sweep of the season.

It wasn’t nearly as comfortable as their 13-run win on Saturday -- their largest margin of victory in 2023 -- as Gabe Speier surrendered a leadoff single and two-run homer in the eighth. But Justin Topa struck out Salvador Perez on seven pitches, including five straight fouls, to strand two runners in scoring position and position Muñoz to close things out.

The Mariners have now won 11 of their past 12 games, 19 of their past 23 and 21 of their past 26.

"It's unbelievable," Rodríguez said. "It's something that these fans deserve. This whole organization, we've all been working. And just to see that and to see how the city's embracing us and our success right now, the way they're supporting us, it's pretty cool. I just hope that everybody keeps on showing up and keeps on bringing the energy because at the end of the day, we are all in this together."

Scoreboard watching makes this time of year so thrilling. But this is a division race that figures to go down to the final week, and Seattle is just one game up on Texas and Houston -- currently tied for second and occupying two of the three AL Wild Card spots.

The Mariners intend to seize rather than surveil.

“We just want to keep controlling what we can control and we don't have to worry about them,” Rodríguez said. “We can't worry about them. I feel like we've just got to focus all we need to do as a team, as the Mariners -- control we can control for each other [and] letting everything outside play out how it's going to play out.”

Within a clubhouse where confidence has become so contagious, players are thinking of much, much more.

“It's exciting,” Castillo said through an interpreter, after limiting K.C. to just a single and a walk. “I've been here since last year and just competing with this team. But I've always said, 'It's not how you start. It's how you finish.'”

The Mariners convincingly ended a 21-year playoff drought last year, then showed that they belonged by sweeping a thrilling AL Wild Card Series in Toronto and going toe-to-toe with the eventual champion Astros in a tense AL Division Series. That led to heightened expectations for 2023, with president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto saying in February that their first AL West title since 2001 was “a realistic goal” before tapering off that commentary as they stumbled through the first four months.

Yet, after going an MLB-best 36-14 since the start of July, featuring separate eight-game win streaks in August alone, they might be the new favorites. When Seattle pulled into a tie for first on Friday, Texas had been in sole possession of first for 111 days (since May 5), and alone or tied for 147 of the season’s first 148 days (exception: April 8).

But beyond the Rangers, no one can count out the Astros, who’ve won the division five of the past six years (the lone outlier being the COVID-impacted 2020). Those two will be their opponents for their final 10 games, with 22 until then.

“I think one thing that'd be better than this is to keep going, get five, six games ahead in first place and win the division,” said Hernández, who crushed a 433-foot solo shot in the finale after blasting two homers, including a grand slam, on Saturday.

Seattle is steamrolling towards the end of the season -- and it doesn’t intend to let its foot off the gas.