This is about where the Seattle Mariners (39-55) were expected to be at the midsummer break — though maybe not with quite as many losses, or at the bottom of the American League West, or so far out of reach of the AL’s second wild card spot.
In a season that was dubbed a “step-back” before it started, during which Seattle has dealt away veterans, auditioned a record amount of players on the field, and put a much bigger focus on building a future postseason contender, this is more or less what 2019 was going to look like.
“I understood what we were getting into,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “There were going to be some tough stretches.”
He’s tried to focus on the smaller victories. The Mariners were a lot more competitive in June and early July than they were slogging throughout blowout losses in May, and were somehow able to almost break even in the five weeks leading up to the All-Star break, despite sending nearly a dozen players to the injured list since May.
The starting pitching has made improvements, a few standouts have emerged from one of baseball’s worst bullpens, and Seattle is still hitting, and hitting for power, despite trading away a pair of veteran sluggers.
“As far as feeling good about our process, and where we’re going, I’m feeling very good about it and the adjustments we’ve made there,” Servais said.
But, he offers that with a condition.
“I still would like to win a few more games,” he said.
With all of the roster turnover — and more expected before the July 31 trade deadline — how can the Mariners continue progressing, turn more close games into wins in the second half, and avoid losing 100 games for the first time since 2010?
“We’re in a different situation right now than we have been in the past,” Servais said. “I like the way that we have been grinding and playing over the past three or four weeks. It’s been pretty consistent. There are still some areas we’ve got to tighten up at times … but I cannot fault this group’s effort or work ethic.”
Part of winning is trying to establish “a flow with your team and in the clubhouse, and have everybody feel like they’re a part of something,” Servais said. But, that hasn’t been easy for a team that used 53 total players and 35 different pitchers — both MLB records before the All-Star break.
“It happens to a lot of teams that are going through what we are going through now,” Servais said. “You’re trying to give guys opportunity. There’s a certain window for that opportunity, and then you say, ‘OK, it’s not going to work for this guy, let’s move on to the next guy.’ It’s one thing you do have to offer as a commodity is the at-bats and the innings.
“At the end of the day, we want to find out about as many people as we can this season. You may see some guys in different positions or different roles that you haven’t seen them in a lot. Let’s find out. Let’s find out if this guy can pitch in traffic with the game on the line. The only way to do it is give him a chance.”
Many more chances could be given to different players in the second half. Right-hander Mike Leake and second baseman Dee Gordon and Tim Beckham, all veterans, have been rumored to be on the trade block, as the Mariners continue to trend younger.
Older relievers like Roenis Elias, who has been one of Seattle’s more steady bullpen offerings, or Cory Gearrin, who rapidly improved after a shaky start to the season, could be offered to help bolster the bullpens of contenders.
Somewhat contingent on how quickly he returns from the IL, Mitch Haniger could be another intriguing option for teams, a year removed from an All-Star season. With top prospect Jarred Kelenic and several more young outfielders climbing through the minors, the Mariners might be willing to shop Haniger.
Seattle is likely to at least hear any offers that might help build toward that 2021 season, when the club is hoping to see many of its young talent reach the majors.
What the Mariners’ roster looks like during the final days of September could contrast even more from what it looked like on Opening Day than it already does, depending on who the club decides to trade away.
And, with a chance at the playoffs all but lost, Seattle is likely to try out some younger players as the summer winds down.
Outfielder Jake Fraley, who was promoted to Triple-A Tacoma in June, could debut late in the season should his production (.305/.354/.661 slash with three doubles, three triples, four homers and 19 RBIs in 14 games with the Rainiers) remain steady.
Certainly if Gordon is traded, infielder Shed Long could get another look in Seattle, after hitting .232/.329/.377 with seven doubles, a homer and five RBIs in 19 games with the Mariners in the first half as an injury replacement.
As solid as he’s been since being shipped to Arkansas, rookie left-hander Justus Sheffield (2-1, 1.36 ERA in five games with the Travelers) could eventually make another appearance in Seattle this season.
“I love where our future is headed,” Servais said. “The Mariners are a very, very healthy organization right now. The average fan here at T-Mobile Park looking at our win-loss record doesn’t see that. I’m fortunate enough I do get to see what’s going on, and have been in other organizations.
“We’re very, very healthy right now. The prospects that are coming, what they’re being taught, what we’re valuing as an organization are things that will help us win down the road as we mature, and the players get better along the way. We’re going to be fine.”
As deflating as the 2019 record is thus far, the Mariners have shown glimpses of what a more productive future could look like.
Called up in May to aid an ailing infield, shortstop J.P. Crawford has looked the part of a franchise shortstop they’ve hoped he would turn into. After a short stint in Triple-A, center fielder Mallex Smith has consistently produced as Seattle’s leadoff hitter. Designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach turned his first full season in the majors into an All-Star campaign. Omar Narvaez has given the Mariners a catcher who can hit for power. And, Marco Gonzales has matured as Seattle’s ace.
During the final 68 games of the season, Servais wants to see those and other player progressions continue.
“Expectations as far as wins and losses (in the second half), no I don’t have any,” Servais said. “I think what I’m looking for I talked about earlier in the season — can we consistently get better? There are going to be some more younger players who show up here in August and September. … I really have to keep my finger on the pulse of the clubhouse. Where are we at energy-wise? The guys come to work every day. Are they getting better? Are they enjoying working with each other?
“Things like that I’m probably more in tune to than the actual wins and losses at this point. I want to give as many guys as we can opportunity, and we need to find out as much as we can about our people. And that’s everybody. That’s coaches, that’s me, but mostly the players and what guys we can move forward with, what guys need a little bit more time, and what guys don’t fit at all. That’s kind of what the goal here is.”