Seattle Mariners: Underrated and riding into 1st place in the American League West

Why the Seattle Mariners are flying under the radar despite being in first place.

Seattle Mariners Dylan Moore
Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Mariners sit atop the American League West and they haven’t even hit their stride. At 19-15, they’re on a 91-win pace for the season, which, in their division, could be enough to finish on top for the first time since their 116-win season in 2001. It would also be just the fourth time the M’s won the West since they came into the league in 1977.

Last week started by taking two of three from the Atlanta Braves, and ended by taking two of three from the Houston Astros, who have been playing better baseball of late. The Mariners haven’t been a flashy team just yet. They’re not grabbing headlines for outright dominating clubs, but they are quietly taking down some tough competition.

Seattle started the season with a 23.6% chance to win the division, and right now those odds have more than doubled, up to 50.1%. It was always a decent possibility that they’d make a run in the West, but with the club having plenty of room to improve over the course of the season, it should be a little worrisome to the rest of the division.

Related: Seattle Mariners standing in Sportsnaut’s MLB power rankings

Seattle Mariners pitchers

Logan Gilbert, Seattle Mariners
Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Mariners starters just had a streak snapped where they had gone 21 straight games in which their starters had allowed two runs or fewer, which is tied for the second-longest streak in MLB history. That is an insane streak, and really speaks not only to the quality of the M’s rotation, but also of the depth they have one through five. When you have starters allowing two or fewer runs, then you’re going to collect a whole bunch of wins in the process.

Seattle’s rotation ranks third in ERA with a 3.11, trailing just the Boston Red Sox (2.10) and Philadelphia Phillies (2.65). That’s the starting point for this club’s success.

Then, when you pair the rotation with the bullpen the team is throwing out there, that’s when they become a team to be feared moving forward. Their relievers hold a cumulative 2.72 ERA behind the New York Yankees (2.27) and Cleveland Guardians (2.72). Overall, the Mariners rank second in ERA with a 2.98, slightly behind Boston’s 2.61. The two clubs split a four-game series at the beginning of the season.

Seattle Mariners offense

Seattle Mariners' Julio Rodriguez
Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

This is where the reinforcements will be coming from. Heading into play on Monday, the Mariners rank 26th in baseball in runs scored (124), which means there is plenty of room to climb to be even a middle-of-the-pack offense.

We also saw this a little bit last season. They began the year 17-17 in their first 34 games, so this year’s 19 wins is a slight improvement. We also saw Julio Rodríguez go absolutely ballistic in August last year, going 45-for-105 (.429) with a .474 OBP, seven homers, and 30 RBI. Seattle was 55-51 at the beginning of that month, and ended up going 21-6 that month.

This isn’t to say that we should expect a month like that from J-Rod every season, but it does illustrate that he can carry the team with the bat for an extended period. He has yet to really kick it into gear yet this season, collecting just one homer, striking out nearly 30% of the time, and holding a 90 wRC+ (100 is league average). He was roughly average in the first half last season too.

The rest of the offense is also off to slow starts, including J.P. Crawford (82 wRC+, 134 last season), Mitch Garver (74, 138), and Luke Raley (55, 130). As the face of the franchise, J-Rod is going to have a lot more eyeballs on him, but Garver was one of the team’s only big additions this winter in free agency, and Raley was a trade acquisition from Tampa Bay. The front office made a lot of moves to shuffle the chairs around, and thus far those moves aren’t paying off on offense.

That said, there are some talented veterans on this roster that you would hope will pick it up a bit as the weather continues to warm.

Related: MLB Playoff and World Series predictions

Big series coming up for Seattle Mariners

After starting the year 7-13, the Minnesota Twins are one of the hottest teams in baseball. Winners of 12 of their last 13, the Twins and Mariners are both coming in after losing streaks. Seattle just lost their streak of 21 games where starters allowed two or fewer runs, and the Twins’ loss on Sunday snapped their 12-game win streak.

During their win streak, Minnesota had the best offense in baseball with a 157 wRC+, swatting 16 homers with 84 runs scored and 13 stolen bases. They’ve also ranked 10th in team ERA with a 3.08, while Seattle has ranked first in ERA over this stretch with a 1.86. This should be an interesting matchup.

On top of both teams playing good ball coming into this series, on the season, both clubs have a +13 run differential and nearly identical records with the Twins at 19-14 to Seattle’s 19-15.

Not only will this be a series for Seattle to test themselves against a good-hitting club on a hot streak, but this will also serve as a good test for Minnesota. While they had won 12 straight entering play on Sunday, seven of those games came against the worst team in the American League in the Chicago White Sox, and three came against the second-worst team in the Los Angeles Angels. The other two came against Boston.

So yes, the Seattle Mariners are having trouble scoring runs, but are the Twins for real? We’ll get some insight when these two clubs clash for four games this week.

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