By Austin Medina
Does Seattle finally break their 20-year playoff drought?
The Seattle Mariners were two games back of ending their storied playoff drought in 2021. For the entire 2021 season, the Mariners were an anomaly. Their success came as a shock to many, as they fought night after night and were right in the mix to win the AL West. They won 33 games decided by a run, in large part due to timely hitting and dominant relief pitching. They won 14 extra-inning games and finished the season with a 90-72 record, all while having a -51 run differential.
With all these odd stats said, the Mariners squad is anything but an anomaly. Their lineup is filled with versatile contact hitters and power bats. Outfielder Mitch Haniger produced a career-season, hitting 29 homeruns and 100 RBI. JP Crawford may be the best shortstop you haven’t heard of, as his rangy defense up the middle meshes perfectly with his gap-to-gap hitting.
Seattle’s starting rotation, arguably their main weakness, improved as they signed reigning AL Cy Young award winner Robbie Ray to a 5-year, $115 million contract. Ray will now lead a rotation who produced a lowly 4.61 ERA. The Mariners will look to Marco Gonzales and rising star Logan Gilbert to fill out the rotation and eat innings.
The M’s youth movement will be on full display from Opening Day on, as top prospect Julio Rodriguez will man center field. Rodriguez, 21, is a transcendent five-tool player that will have no problem adjusting to the big leagues. In Double-A last season, Rodriguez hit .362 with seven homeruns and 26 RBI in just 46 games. If you haven’t watched J-Rod play, make sure you tune in to Mariners baseball this season.
Along with Rodriguez is the highly regarded RF Jarred Kelenic. While Kelenic struggled initially adjusting to major league pitching, he found his groove towards the end of the season. In 29 games during September, he batted .248 with seven homeruns and 20 RBI.
The Mariners upgraded at two key positions, left field and third base. Two weeks ago, they acquired LF Jesse Winker and 3B Eugenio Suárez from the Cincinnati Reds. Winker is coming off an All-Star season, as he batted .304 with 24 homeruns and 32 doubles. A change of scenery for Suárez may be just what he needed, as the 30-year-old is only two years removed from a 49-homer season.
Throw in a dominant bullpen, the Mariners have everything they need to win the West. The Houston Astros head into the 2022 season without All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa, who signed with the Minnesota Twins. Ace Lance McCullers will start the season on the IL, putting even more pressure on Justin Verlander as he returns from Tommy john surgery. The Oakland A’s essentially bowed out of the running after trading multiple franchise cornerstones, including Matt Olson, Sean Manaea, and Matt Chapman. Both the Rangers and Angels have star power in their lineups, but both pitching rotations will have to prove they can keep up for the entire season.
Even if they don’t take the West, the Mariners playoff drought appears ready to come to an end in 2022.