The Seattle Mariners have been much, much better than anticipated before the start of the season.
They have a surprisingly solid 50-44 record, and despite the roster disparity, they are not that far from the division-leading Houston Astros, at six games back.
The Mariners are allowed to dream about a potential postseason appearance.
They are currently 2.5 games behind the Oakland Athletics for the second Wild Card spot.
However, these are the three biggest reasons why the Mariners are still in Wild Card contention.
3. A Surprisingly Productive Infield
Prior to the start of the season, there weren’t too many expectations from the Mariners’ infield, at least offensively speaking.
But other names have risen up to the occasion.
J.P. Crawford, not long ago seen as a failed prospect, is hitting .276/.338/.384 with five homers, three steals, and a 105 weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+).
An average hitter usually has a 100 wRC+ or around that mark, so Crawford has been an average offensive performer while playing very good defense at short.
That is a fairly valuable regular.
Ty France, who has been used as a first, second, and third baseman this season, has a very good .275/.356/.428 line (122 wRC+) with nine homers, while veteran Kyle Seager may be hitting .213, but has 17 home runs so far.
None of them are stars, but they have been helping the Mariners as they make an unexpected push for the playoffs.
2. Mitch Haniger
Plagued by injuries in 2020, the talented Mitch Haniger has had quite the resurgent season in 2021.
So far, he is hitting .266/.322/.509 with 22 home runs and a 129 wRC+.
Essentially, he has been 29 percent better than the average offensively, which is very good.
Haniger leads the Mariners’ position players in Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, with 2.1.
He is on pace to finish with a little under 4.0 WAR, and Seattle will gladly take that kind of performance.
To this point, Haniger has been the most consistent and reliable source of power for a team that needs all the offense it can handle.
Mitch Haniger – Seattle Mariners (22) 3-run. pic.twitter.com/jDsS6Qufu1
— MLB HR Tracker (@hr_mlb) July 18, 2021
1. Yusei Kikuchi and Logan Gilbert
The Mariners season turned around May 24. Since then, Chris Flexen, Logan Gilbert and Yusei Kikuchi each rank among the top 20 starters by ERA. pic.twitter.com/t0EJmclBiU
— Ryan Blake (@_ryan_blake) July 17, 2021
Gilbert owns a beautiful 3.50 ERA in 54 innings, and has struck out 28.3 percent of the batters he has faced, which is extremely good.
Kikuchi has been roughed up in his last two turns, but has managed to put a 3.92 ERA in a team-leading 103.1 innings pitched.
Gilbert’s emergence, and Kikuchi’s breakout have been perhaps the biggest reason why Seattle is still hanging with the American League powerhouses in mid-July.