The 2022 Seattle Mariners season has come and gone, but there is still plenty to look back on and talk about before we look forward to the 2023 season.
The Mariners ended the regular season 90-72 for the second straight year, but this year they were able to make the playoffs after ending the longest playoff drought in major North American sports. In the postseason they swept Toronto (2-0) in the wild card, before getting swept (3-0) in the ALDS by the Houston Astros.
Let’s start from the beginning of the season. The Mariners had quite a few new faces in the Opening Day lineup: Adam Frazier at second base, Jesse Winker in left field, Eugenio Suarez at third base, top prospect Julio Rodriguez in center field, and the most recent Cy Young winner, Robbie Ray on the mound. The team got out to a slow start, sitting around .500 for the first month of the season. The season had its first downhill turn when they fell below .500 on May 4th in the middle of a six-game losing streak. They dropped as low as 10 games under .500 on June 19th after losing 4 out of 5 games to the Angels. This was the ultimate low point in the season. Fans, the two of us included, were wondering where this team was going. Many of the off-season acquisitions were not performing well. Jesse Winker had yet to show any flashes from his time in Cincinnati and Robbie Ray was continually having at least one blow-up inning every start.
The turning point of the season came a week later when they played the Angels again. Not the brawl that occurred during the series but earlier that weekend. The team came together for a meeting and talked about the changes that had to be made. They knew that they were too good of a team to be performing the way they were. Then about 3 weeks later they finally got back over .500 again. This was in the middle of a 14-game win streak that they took into the All-Star break. The break came at a less-than-ideal time for a team who ended up tied for the longest win streak all season.
During the All-Star break, the rest of the league was truly introduced to Julio Rodriguez. Someone who was known well by Mariners fans, burst onto the scene by placing second in the HR Derby (even though he hit by far the most home runs). The Mariners had two All-Stars in Ty France and Julio Rodriguez. But Julio, or JRod to many, stole the show. People in the Pacific Northwest were already very much aware of this young man’s uncapped potential, but the world was now getting a better understanding of why Mariners fans were ecstatic about the future. He was receiving praise from star names such as Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Miguel Cabrera, among others. It was an incredible opportunity for Julio, and as he frequently does, he rose to the occasion. He got a taste of the big stage which made him, and Mariners fans, very excited for the second half.
The second half started a bit slow for a team who was as hot as ever going into the break. They opened up the second half 9 games back of Houston before getting swept in a three-game series. For all intents and purposes, this was the end of any chance the Mariners had of winning the division. The focus turned solely to the Wild Card and ending the drought.
Then came the trade deadline. They were linked to a few big names, Juan Soto and Luis Castillo, and a couple of smaller names like Brandon Drury or Andrew Chafin. The big splash they ended up pulling off was for Luis Castillo. They got the top pitcher on the market and he performed like it down the stretch and into the postseason. With a 2.99 ERA in the regular season and a 1.88 ERA in the postseason, he was certainly worth not only the prospect capital they had to give up, but the 5-year, 100+ million dollar deal given to him near the end of the year. Castillo wasn’t the only one who got an extension.
Then, Julio Rodriguez signed what could end up being the largest contract in league history.
Seattle locked up the type of impact, generational talent they have been searching for since the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro. Julio Rodriguez, this contract, and the security of having a superstar manning centerfield for the next 10+ years undoubtedly helped the Mariners through the stretch run.
After the 3-game sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros coming out of the break, the Mariners went 38-27 in their remaining 65 games. The recipe for success that they wrote this year was the reason for many of these wins. Great starting pitching, especially with the addition of Castillo, excellent defense, a shutdown bullpen, and timely hitting propelled them to a solid second half. As the All-Star Break came and went, and the season was getting shorter by the day, this special team, Mariners fans, the city of Seattle, and the entire Pacific Northwest was starting to feel the buzz. Of course, as a team holding the longest postseason drought in professional sports, there was skepticism as well. But this team felt different. As the regular season was winding down, the scoreboard watching was becoming prevalent, and the magic number was dwindling. It all came to fruition on a special, special night on Friday, September 30th.
Although the Mariners had been getting help from other teams as the season was ending, this game was simple. Win and you’re in. A sellout crowd of upwards of 44,000 filled the seats of T-Mobile Park, ready to erupt over the culmination of a 21-year drought. It was a turbulent affair, much like many of the M’s games this year, and suspense was a theme as the game progressed. As the game reached the ninth inning, it was tied 1-1. The game was on the shoulders of Cal Raleigh, a name unknown to many, but a young catcher that had blossomed into a mainstay in this Mariners lineup. A back-and-forth battle between him and Domingo Acevedo pursued. But Cal, a name that Seattleites will now never forget, got a pitch that he DID NOT MISS. He sent a missile over the right field wall, and pandemonium ensued. The drought, something that felt like the weight of a continent on the back of Seattle and the Mariners, was over. The Seattle Mariners were headed to the postseason.
The playoffs were finally here. The Mariners were going to Toronto to play in one of the most electric home atmospheres in baseball. The Mariners ran out Luis Castillo against top 3 Cy Young finisher, Alek Manoah. The Mariners jumped on Manoah early. Julio Rodriguez was hit by a pitch and moved over to second on a Ty France ground out. Eugenio Suarez follows with an RBI double before Cal Raleigh hits another huge HR, just a week after punching this team’s ticket in the postseason. Luis Castillo was phenomenal, going 7.1 shutout innings with 5 strikeouts. The Mariners were up 1-0 in the series.
Game 2 was a different story. Robbie Ray was once again not sharp early and gave up 4 runs, on 6 hits in only 3 innings of work. Then the Mariners fought back to get the score to 4-1, and maybe you still had a chance. Then Paul Sewald comes in and has arguably his worst outing of the entire season. He gives up 4 runs on 3 hits, 2 walks, and a HBP. The game felt over. 8-1 in a playoff game for an offense that only scored around 4 runs per game during the regular season. Then the Mariners start chipping away in the 6th inning. A bases-loaded wild pitch scored a run before a Carlos Santana 3-run HR that brought the game to 8-5. The Blue Jays stretched the lead back to 9-5 in the bottom of the 7th. Then everything broke loose in the top of the 8th. Cal Raleigh hits an RBI single. With two out, J.P. Crawford hits a bloop, 3 RBI double, aided by a Springer and Bichette collision, that ties the game up at 9. It’s now the top of the 9th and the Mariners have the go-ahead run on at second after a Raleigh double. Adam Frazier takes the first pitch he sees and ropes it down the right-field line. The Mariners come all the way back to take the lead and are now 3 outs away from winning the wild card series and getting the chance to host a home playoff game for the first time in over two decades.
Bottom 9 and rookie George Kirby is on for the first relief appearance of his big league career. He throws 26 pitches in a taxing inning but he ends up getting the save and he sends the Mariners onto the ALDS to face the Houston Astros.
Game One in the ALDS once again got off to a hot start for the Mariners. Facing Justin Verlander, they scored 6 runs in 4 innings to take a 4-0 lead and eventually be up 6-2 after a 2-run double from Yordan Alvarez. Logan Gilbert pitched well in his playoff debut. He went 5.1 innings, giving up only 5 hits and striking out 5. This game ultimately came down to the final few innings after the Mariners were only able to add one run in the 7th after all the runs they scored early. Alex Bregman cut the lead to 7-5 with a 2-run HR off Andres Muñoz. Paul Sewald came on for a save in the ninth and was unable to close it out. He got two outs but always had a HBP and gave up a single. Ultimately this game came down to the final at-bat when Scott Servais brought in Robbie Ray with two outs to face Yordan Alvarez. Ray threw back-to-back sinkers and gave up the walk-off HR to Alvarez.
Houston had come all the way back to take a 1-0 lead in the series. The Mariners were riding all the momentum from the wild card series and now that was completely flipped. They had completely overpowered the presumed Cy Young winner and that still was not enough to win this game.
Game 2 saw Mariners ace Luis Castillo take on Framber Valdez. Valdez set an MLB record for consecutive quality starts during a single regular season with 25. Castillo gave up an early home run to Alex Tucker that gave the Astros a 1-0 lead. The Mariners were able to take a 2-1 lead after a hectic top of the 4th inning. Unfortunately, those were the last runs the Mariners would score not only in this game but in the series. Yordan Alvarez hit his second big home run of the series and gave the Astros a 3-2 lead. The Astros tacked on a run in the bottom of the 8th to make the final score 4-2. The Mariners were now down 0-2 in the series, but they were finally bringing playoff baseball back to Seattle.
Game 3 saw Lance McCullers Jr take on rookie George Kirby. Kirby was making his second appearance of the postseason after closing out game 2 of the wild card round. Seattle fans were absolutely crazy. They were ready to see this Mariners team try and start a comeback in this series. This game was very pitching-heavy. Kirby tied a career-high 7 innings pitched and struck out 5, while only giving up 6 hits and no walks. Houston had guys in scoring position but the rookie never wavered. On the other side, McCullers was just as dominant. Only giving up 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out 7 across 6 innings of work. As much as the starting pitchers would normally be the story of a game, they came out well before this game saw its first run. This game ended up in the 18th inning before we saw the first run. Through the 17th inning, the Mariners bullpen had gone 10 innings, allowing only 3 hits and striking out 14. Once again the Astros matched that. The Houston bullpen went 11 innings, allowing 5 hits and striking out 15. Then came the top of the 18th. The Seattle bullpen was running thin. Robbie Ray was the only one left and projected game 4 starter Logan Gilbert had walked out there. Penn Murfee was on for his 3rd inning of work and just made a mistake in a 3-2 count. Jeremy Peña gave the Astros the lead on a missile to dead center.
And that was the only run scored. The Mariners lose 1-0 and get swept by the Astros in the ALDS. Despite the lack of offense, the Seattle fans never tired. 18 innings and over 6 hours of baseball couldn’t silence this crowd. The 40,000-plus fans never stopped and, unfortunately, they didn’t see the Mariners offense perform. This series was very much a microcosm of the entire season. They couldn’t get over the hump against Houston, who went on to dominate the rest of the playoffs and win the World Series, and they just could not capitalize on the opportunities they had. They were swept in a series where they had a legitimate chance to win every game.
Ultimately, this was just the beginning of this core that the Mariners have put together. They are able to bring back a majority of your lineup and their top 4 starters are very much set for next season. Of course, you will have holes to fill and questions left to answer, but this feels like just the start.
The drought is over and the focus now shifts from just making the playoffs, to doing real damage in them. This young team, with virtually no postseason experience, now knows what that environment is like. They can build off this season and hope to make a real push towards not only making but winning the first World Series in franchise history.
Featured Photo: Mariners / Twitter