The 2021 MLB season has been full of surprises so far.
Very few people had the Boston Red Sox leading the American League East after the break, or the Minnesota Twins in the fourth place of the AL Central.
The San Francisco Giants leading the National League West is also an eyebrow raiser, as is the fact that the Chicago Cubs are making stars such as Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, and Craig Kimbrel available via trade.
However, perhaps the biggest surprise of the season is the Seattle Mariners seriously contending for a playoff spot.
It is the most surprising storyline of the campaign because no one, absolutely no one, expected Seattle to be this competitive.
The team finished third in the AL West last year with a mediocre 27-33 record.
They were even worse in 2019, finishing in the division’s cellar with a 68-94 record.
This time, however, it appears that Seattle has arrived a year or two earlier than previously anticipated.
The Mariners have a 51-45 record and are only 6-5 games behind the leaders, the Houston Astros.
We say ‘only’ 6.5 games behind not because it is an insignificant difference; it’s not, but because they are expected to be much further behind.
The second Wild Card spot is well within reach for the M’s, as they are 3.5 games behind the Oakland Athletics.
They Have Shattered Expectations, But Is It Legitimate?
The problem for Seattle is the minus-52 run differential.
They have the AL’s sixth-best record, but they are 11th in run differential.
The most logical assumptions or takeaways here are that the Mariners are playing a little over their heads and that their luck will even out and they will start losing more games since they are actually not that good.
But the analysis is not that simple.
Gilbert, with a 3.50 ERA in 54 innings, has true ace potential, while Kikuchi (3.92 ERA) and Flexen (3.35 ERA) are also rock-solid.
Logan Gilbert K'ing the Side.
With 2 Swords. ⚔️⚔️ pic.twitter.com/Sljhd7xYFP
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 18, 2021
Perhaps the Mariners can be able to avoid a bit of regression in the second half if all these performers keep playing well and if a certain position player takes the next step in his development.
Outfielder Jarred Kelenic, a top-10 prospect by nearly all accounts and publications, has feasted on Triple-A pitching all season long and is ready to be challenged at the MLB level.
The problem is that he has been very bad in the bigs, with a .107/.179/.184 and -1.0 Wins Above Replacement in 28 games.
Jarred Kelenic snaps 0-for-42 slide with a single to left on the 3rd AB of his 22nd birthday
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 17, 2021
If Kelenic can develop correctly and his bat wakes up in the second half, perhaps the Mariners can lengthen their lineup and inflict more damage.