Seattle Mariners: The noteworthy sleepers of MLB

SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 27: Starting pitcher of the Seattle Mariners reactsa after gibing up a solo home run to Maikel Franco
SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 27: Starting pitcher of the Seattle Mariners reactsa after gibing up a solo home run to Maikel Franco /

The Seattle Mariners have been on a tear as of late. Their stellar play is beyond due, but will it maintain, and how far will it take them?

With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, the MLB season has officially turned the corner. Before we know it, we’ll be glued to our TVs, urging our teams to make a late push to the postseason.  Some of us at least. A few teams will breeze into the playoffs, while many are already planning for vacations in October. But there will be a number of teams sweating out the season until game 162, perhaps even a game 163.

Which brings the attention to the American League Wild Card race. As it currently stands, six teams lie within four games of an AL Wild Card berth. The New Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays represent the two teams being chased. The Wild Card is up for grabs and it is anyone’s guess as to which team will prevail. Though there is one team that exudes more promise than any other.

No one seems to be talking about the Seattle Mariners. Perhaps it’s because they are hidden in the Northwest and play the majority of their games when most of the country is turning it in for the night. Or maybe it’s because the Houston Astros have forced them to irrelevance in an already determined AL West. Whatever the reason, there is no excuse for overlooking a very talented, playoff hungry Seattle squad.

The Seattle Mariners have developed a reputation as an always overhyped team that can never pull through when it matters. An appropriate comparison would be the Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA, or the University of Tennessee in college football. The Mariners have spent the last few seasons disappointing so many fans which assumed a breakout year was on the way. Though maybe it is on the way in 2017.

Seattle is 7-3 in their last 10 games, including a sweep over the Chicago White Sox and a recent series win over the Houston Astros. They averaged 4.8 runs per game and gave up 3.8 runs per game over that span. Things appear to be clicking for the Mariners at the right time.

Expectations were astronomical as always for Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager. Despite a moderately down season from Seager, the trio has carried their normal load for Seattle. In fact, the triple threat has driven home 41% of the team’s runs in 2017. However, who deserves more credit for the middle of the order production than the table-setters?

Jean Segura has been outstanding in the leadoff spot. There was concern he may have been a one-year wonder given his sudden brilliance in Arizona last season. Segura has clearly disproved that theory, as he ranks 2nd in the AL with a .346 batting average, and 5th in OBP at .385.

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Additionally, the emergence of outfielder Ben Gamel has been a major surprise. The 25-year-old has climbed to the second spot in the Seattle Mariners’ lineup. On the heels of Segura, Gamel is hitting .319 with a .373 OBP. Throw in the hot bats of Mike Zunino and Danny Valencia, the Mariners’ lineup has finally taken shape.

But the offense is not as important to the team as starting pitching. The M’s staff has held up this season. There is no pitcher more underrated than James Paxton. Paxton is 9-3 with a 3.05 ERA in 16 starts this season. He is averaging over a strikeout per inning and has held opposing hitters to a .222 batting average. If it weren’t for lost time on the disabled list, Paxton would be among the contenders for the American League Cy Young award.

With Paxton’s dominance, Felix Hernandez is no longer the Mariners’ ace. He may still be known as the ace, but in terms of performance, Hernandez has taken a back seat. Yet, Felix Hernandez remains an intelligent, productive pitcher. He is still a guy the team would entrust in the highest of stakes.

Of course, much is dependent on the health of Hisashi Iwakuma, who suffered another setback in his recovery from right shoulder inflammation. The timetable has shifted to a hopeful mid-August return for the veteran.

Looking at a potential playoff appearance, a healthy Iwakuma would give Seattle a very good one through four in a short rotation. Paxton, Hernandez, and Iwakuma would lead the way. The Mariners’ would likely play matchup with their fourth starter, going with either left-hander Ariel Miranda, or right-hander Sam Gaviglio.

The bullpen is a work in progress, however, Seattle has taken great strides as of late. Closer Edwin Diaz has had some growing pains this season, but he has been close to perfect over the last month. Diaz has allowed just one run in nine appearances in July. The nine appearances span to 9 2/3 innings, in which Diaz has notched 17 strikeouts. It seems the 23-year-old is reaching a nice comfort level in the high pressure moments.

The Mariners dipped into the trade market yesterday to shore up the bullpen. Seattle acquired Miami Marlins’ reliever David Phelps in exchange for four prospects. Phelps will add depth to a short Mariners’ bullpen. He is a versatile arm, being able to work in a number of game situations.

Jarrod Dyson provides the game-changing speed every great playoff team needs. We’ve already seen the impact Dyson had sprinting throughout the base paths for the Kansas City Royals in their postseason runs. Additionally, Seattle has outstanding defense to split the field. Cano, Segura, and Dyson are lights out defenders.

Next: Midseason prospect rankings

Ultimately, this is a Seattle Mariners’ team that could be extremely dangerous in the postseason. Yet, no one is really talking about them. If you’re tired of hearing about the front-runners and blue bloods, tune into the Mariners. They are posed to make a splash as the regular season winds down.