Preseason expectations weren’t huge for the Seattle Mariners in 2021: three teams in their own division were, at least on paper, better than them.
The Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics, and Los Angeles Angels were all expected to finish higher than the M’s in the standings.
Only one of them, the Astros, was able to surpass what the Mariners did this year.
The 90-72 Mariners were second in their division and finished five games behind the Astros, which isn’t a huge difference in the grand scheme of things.
Perhaps most importantly, Seattle got to the last day of the season alive in the quest for the Wild Card in the American League.
They eliminated the A’s earlier in the week and fought hard, but ultimately dropped two of three against the Angels and saw the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees advance to the Wild Card Game.
Considering all these things, should fans expect more from the team next season?
A Reality Check
It’s important to add to the equation that, per run differential, the Mariners weren’t particularly great.
They finished the season with a -51 run differential, which is usually not associated with a 90-win team.
13 teams in MLB history have had a run differential of -50 or worse *and* a batting average below .230, including this year’s Mariners. Here are the top-5 records among them:
2021 Mariners: 90-72
1969 Angels: 71-90
1967 Yankees: 71-90
1965 WA Senators: 70-92
1968 Angels: 67-95
— Matt Loveless (@MattLoveless) October 5, 2021
That means several things: one, they had some luck on their side, which is good but not exactly sustainable (you can’t predict luck); and the other one is that they were very good in close games, in part thanks to their great bullpen.
Seattle’s bullpen was fourth in Wins Above Replacement, with 7.0, and eighth in ERA with 3.88.
Seattle’s problem is that, in the grand scheme of things, their offense and pitching were not that good, and that ultimately will impact the standings.
The Mariners were 16th in both runs allowed per game (4.6) and ERA (4.30), which means that their pitching was average at best.
There Is Work To Be Done, But The Future Is Bright
Seattle was 22nd in runs scored per game, with 4.3: below-average performance.
Additionally, they will likely be without slugger Kyle Seager, who hit 35 homers and drove in 101 runs in 2021.
Seager has a $20 million option for 2022, with a $2 million buyout (which seems like the most probable outcome).
Perhaps both parties can work out a return at a lesser salary.
It’s very clear that this franchise is going places, and the fan base should feel happy about the current state of things.
However, they have work to be done roster-wise, and need to shore up both pitching and offense.
Jarred Kelenic Julio Rodríguez
The Future pic.twitter.com/XJMk36i4zO
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) April 22, 2020
Kelenic will have a year of experience, and some pitching prospects should start contributing.
Despite their obvious limitations, fans can, and should, expect a playoff berth from the Mariners in 2022.