The Seattle Mariners are about to learn just how good they are.
It’s one thing to pull off all these extra-innings dramatics and one-run victories (two things they lead the majors in) against these American League Central teams and the bottom of the American League West.
It’s another to keep that up for the rest of this month.The Mariners leave Houston for a four-game series in Tampa Bay and then things get real interesting: Seven games against the Los Angeles Angels and the Boston Red Sox at home before six games on the road against the New York Yankees and the Red Sox.
But if Tuesday’s 7-1 bashing of the Astros was any indication, maybe those teams should fear the Mariners – not the other way around.
“To be on a 100-plus win pace, I would be lying to you if I told you that coming into the season I thought we were a 103-win team,” Dipoto said in his weekly radio segment on 710-AM radio. The Mariners, entering Wednesday, were on pace to finish the season with that many wins (which would be their second-most wins in any season in team history, trailing the 116-win season of 2001).
“But we did think we were a playoff contender.”
Granted, it is still early.
Mariners manager Scott Servais warned as the team entered Houston to face the reigning World Series champs that maybe the world shouldn’t take a world of significance out of this series. Wait until they face each other in the middle of September for that.
Still, when the Mariners posted their most lopsided win since early May with that six-run win over the Astros, Servais pulled out the "statement victory" quote.
They’ve done this through pitching. Who would have thought journeyman left-hander Wade LeBlanc would be performing like a Jacob deGrom or Justin Verlander? His 1.62 ERA entering Wednesday over his past seven appearances (six starts) was tied for the fifth lowest in the majors behind the Mets’ deGrom (0.67), Astros’ Verlander (1.13), Braves’ Sean Newcomb (1.32) and teammate James Paxton (1.60).
Since May 16 (one day after Robinson Cano was hit with an 80-game suspension) the Mariners’ starting pitchers have going 9-1 with a 2.09 ERA. Mariners starters lead the majors in ERA in that span.
“We thought all along that our pitching was better than people were giving it credit for,” Dipoto said.
But the critics will point to the level of competition and narrow margins of victory. Entering Wednesday, the Mariners trailed just the Red Sox and Yankees in wins, but 12 teams in the majors had better marks than the Mariners’ plus-23 run differential.
Compare that to the Astros, who entered Wednesday with a plus-116 run differential.
That’s because the Mariners have 18 one-run victories, they are 6-0 in extra-innings, they’ve won 12 games when scoring three runs or fewer. They’ve had plenty of timely pitching and timely hitting.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, you can’t sustain that. It will catch up with you …’ I don’t know,” Servais said recently. “I’m not worried about it. I’m worried about tomorrow’s game and that’s’ how we’re looking at it. We’ll find out tomorrow how to win.”
Dipoto pointed to their chemistry for being able to prevail in close games.
“The internal build with this team – you got a very good vibe about this group, about the way they are wired,” Dipoto said. “The internal build on this club is different even than the past three years. They enjoy one another and you could see that come together in the spring. It was evident on opening night (against the Cleveland Indians) when they had to grind against a team that had won more than anybody else in the American League. We found a way to win a game that in the recent course of Mariners history we would have found a way to lose.
“That has been the trademark of this team. They find ways to win games that historically they would have found ways to lose.”
Robinson Cano can’t be in the Mariners clubhouse, but he can be on the field rehabbing early in the day as he awaits the end of his suspension. He can return by Aug. 14.
Dipoto said Cano is frequently at Safeco early in the day rehabbing his fractured finger (suffered on a hit-by-pitch two days before his suspension became official). And he said Cano threw for the first time on Wednesday.
“He should start swinging next week,” Dipoto said. “But he’ll usually be spending time in the cage just talking and spending time with his teammates while Ichiro is in there, too. So somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 career hits getting work in during home games.”
The Mariners released left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski on Wednesday after they designated him for assignment on June 1 after going 0-1 with a 9.39 ERA in 18 relief appearances.
That means Rzepczynski is now a free agent and the Mariners will pay him the remainder of the $5.5 million owed to him this season. The 32-year-old can now sign with any team.
The Mariners finished the MLB draft with the final 30 picks (rounds 11-40), taking a local product with their top pick of the day.
In the 11th round, the Mariners selected right-hander Damon Casetta-Stubbs 328th overall out of King’s Way Christian, a Class 1A program in Vancouver, Washington. He was the first high school player they drafted.
He led the Knights to the 1A state championship game with a fastball that reportedly reached 97 mph. He went 6-1 with a 0.68 ERA (five earned runs, 51 1/3 innings) with 97 strikeouts and seven walks. He’s 6-foot-4, 200 pounds.
They also selected left-hander Benjamin Onyshko in the 24th round. He is a teammate at Stetson University in Florida of the Mariners’ first-round draft pick, 6-foot-6 right-hander Logan Gilbert, who leads all of NCAA Division I pitchers in strikeouts.
The Mariners dedicated their final pick, 40th-round selection David Rhodes to longtime scout Wayne Norton, who died in January. Rhodes is a University of Washington signee from White Rock, British Columbia, and Norton is a native of Port Moody, British Columbia, and covered Canada as a Mariners scout beginning in 2000.
The Mariners head to Florida for a four-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays, beginning Thursday with right-hander Mike Leake (5-3, 4.71 ERA) on the mound for the 4:10 p.m. game. The Rays had yet to announce a starter, with right-hander Chris Archer heading to the 10-day disabled list this week.
The game will televise on Root Sports and broadcast on 710-AM radio.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677