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2 Sep 2023

Mariners Mets Baseball

Led by slugging center-fielder Julio Rodriguez, the Seattle Mariners won more games in August than ... [+] in any single month of their existence. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

After hosting the 2023 All-Star Game at T-Mobile Park, the Seattle Mariners are now making a serious run at the World Series.

The only one of the 30 teams that has never won a pennant, the M’s have had mostly losing seasons since joining the American League as an expansion team in 1977. In fact, they have reached the post-season only five times in 26 seasons.

This year, pre-season prognosticators gave the team only an outside chance to dethrone the defending World Champion Houston Astros in the American League West.

When Seattle started poorly, most experts took an attitude of I-told-you-so. They pointed to the payroll, which ranks just 17th among the 30 clubs at $180.8, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Three of their AL West rivals – the Astros, Angels, and Rangers – all pay their players more.

On June 30, the Mariners were 38-42 and 10 games out of first place. Even defending AL Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez was prompting whiskers about a sophomore jinx.

But then all the pieces fell into place. J-Rod started to hit, the M’s started to win, and the front-running Texas Rangers, along with the Astros, started to stumble. As August morphed into September, Seattle slew all comers.

Its 72-56 record on Aug. 27 gave the club a piece of the penthouse – the first time since Aug. 26, 2003 it had reached the top of the divisional standings so late in a season.

“It’s been a long time,” said manager Scott Servais, a former catcher who has been at the helm since 2016. “It’s a credit to our players, staff, and organization. We got off to a really rough start this year after really high expectations. And we have a lot of baseball yet to play.”

Orioles Mariners Baseball

Pitcher Luis Castillo was one of three Mariners who made the 2023 American League All-Star team. (AP ... [+] Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The in-season comeback reminded many observers of the 1995 Mariners, a middle-of-the-pack team that caught fire late, took the AL West title on the last day, and then defeated the favored Yankees in a five-game Division Series before losing the Championship Series to Cleveland.

Seattle fans still haven’t recovered from 2001, when the Mariners won an AL-record 116 games but lost to the Yankees in the ALCS – depriving them of their closest brush with a World Series.

Looming ahead are season-ending series against the Rangers and Astros, a 10-game stretch that will test all three teams. In the meantime, the Mariners mean to put some distance between them and their closest rivals.

When the team topped the Oakland Athletics in Seattle with a come-from-behind, 5-4 win earlier this week, it was a club-record 21st victory in a single month – topping 20-win months in 1995, 1997, and 2001 (three times). All those teams made it to the playoffs.

Rodriguez, the fleet center-fielder, has led the resurgence. On track for a rare 30/30 season, he just passed Alex Rodriguez as the fastest Mariner to reach 50 career homers.

“I’m just happy I’m able to help this team win, help the stretch we’ve got going and just kind of keep this winning streak going,” said Rodriguez, who is not related to A-Rod. “That’s honestly everything that matters to me.”

Over one stretch of 62 at-bats, the 22-year-old slugger hit .516 with five homers, six doubles, 13 runs scored, and 21 runs batted in, plus four walks and eight stolen bases.

He even passed Toronto’s Dante Bichette for the American League lead in hits – after collecting 28 in 10 games, the best any player has done since Kenny Lofton in 1997.

Although he enjoyed the hot streak, he said he doubted he could duplicate the feat of former Mariner Ichiro Suzuki, who once collected 56 hits in a month.

White Sox Baseball

Infielder Josh Rojas, acquired from Arizona, made an immediate impact after arriving in Seattle at ... [+] the trade deadline. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

In addition to Rodriguez, a major reason for the Mariners’ surge was the sudden influx of talented new blood. Infielder Josh Rojas, obtained from Arizona with outfielder Dominic Canzone for closer Paul Sewald at the Aug. 1 trade deadline, has been a breath of fresh air. So have outfielders Dylan Moore and Cade Marlowe.

“Hitting is a lot easier when you know the lineup is on fire,” said Rojas, who arrived from Arizona with no home runs but quickly banged three for Seattle.

During the month of August, the Mariners trailed only the National League’s Atlanta Braves in generating an overpowering offense.

Rodriguez, Teoscar Hernandez, Eugenio Suarez, and Cal Raleigh have been the main run-producers during the run, with Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, and Luis Castillo leading a solid starting rotation.

In Castillo, Kirby, and J-Rod, Seattle had three All-Stars for the first time since the 2018 Mariners had four.

In retrospect, it’s amazing the club has survived serious injuries to projected pitching ace Robbie Ray, sidelined by Tommy John elbow surgery, and outfielder Jarred Kelenic, out with a fractured foot.

The M’s have also survived the impulses of general manager Jerry Dipoto, widely considered the most active trader of any team executive.

Other than the Rojas trade, he was uncharacteristically quiet at the deadline. Maybe he had an inkling of good things to come.