The 2021 Seattle Mariners saw their late playoff push fall short, but proved that they’re quickly approaching contention after years of rebuilding. The Mariners have the longest playoff drought in all of North American professional sports, having not made the postseason since 2001. The last time they reached the Major League Baseball postseason? It was future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols‘ rookie year. At 42-years-old, Pujols, back with the Cardinals, has said 2022 will be his final season.
After last year’s 90-win season, the expectations for the Mariners have now jumped to earning a playoff spot. The rebuild can now be considered officially over, and contention will be the main focus for this AL West club moving forward. Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto added some pieces this offseason that should help the Mariners return to playoff contention and stay there for the long run. The Mariners signed reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray and traded for additional lineup support in All-Star Jesse Winker and third baseman Eugenio Suárez from the Cincinnati Reds.
“What a season for the Mariners and our group really taking a huge step forward, organizationally and where we’re at,” manager Scott Servais said after Seattle missed out on the final playoff spot last year. “Our future is very, very bright here. I say all that and we’re still very disappointed to get that close and to not kind of cross the finish line and break through into the playoffs.”
Seattle boasts a solid lineup and rotation to go along with an impressive bullpen, but it’s not quite a surefire thing that this will be the year they’ll break the postseason drought. Despite the expanded playoff format, the Mariners will still have to play some really good baseball to make sure they don’t find themselves on the cusp once again.
Let’s preview the upcoming season for the M’s.
Win total projection, odds
- 2022 SportsLine projection: 79-83
- World Series odds (via Caesars Sportsbook): +3500
- 2021 Record: 90-72 (second in AL West)
- 2B Adam Frazier
- 1B Ty France
- LF Jesse Winker
- RF Mitch Haniger
- 3B Eugenio Suárez
- SS J.P. Crawford
- DH Abraham Toro
- CF Jarred Kelenic
- C Tom Murphy
With Evan White having underwent surgery for sports hernia, that will keep Ty France at first base for a while. Kyle Lewis is still working his way back from a torn meniscus, and the club’s approach for his return will likely be cautious and have Lewis DH initially. The way this roster’s constructed, the Mariners have several young players who are only just hitting their stride.
Bullpen: CL Drew Steckenrider, CL Paul Sewald, SU Diego Castillo, SU Ken Giles, MID Sergio Romo, MID Justus Sheffield, MID Andrés Muñoz, MID Anthony Misiewicz, MID Erik Swanson, LR Nick Margevicius, LR Justus Sheffield
Robbie Ray is the certified ace for this ball club, but what follows him in the rotation is not chopped liver. Lefty Marco Gonzales, 30, looks primed to reach another double-digit win season, 27-year-old right-hander Chris Flexen finished with a 3.61 ERA and 1.25 WHIP across 31 starts last year and 24-year-old right-hander Logan Gilbert is coming off several impressive September starts last season. Rookie Matt Brash, 23, will take the No. 5 spot in the rotation in part thanks to his elite slider but fellow rookie George Kirby could serve as another option.
As far as the bullpen goes, if all goes well, expect the same dominance we saw last year. (They were 33-19 in one-run games). Paul Sewald and Drew Steckenrider will look to build upon their 2021 emergence. Plus, there’s the offseason addition of Ken Giles, Sergio Romo and Andrés Muñoz that should help any of the unavoidable regression.
Here are three things to know about the Mariners heading into the 2022 season.
1. Julio Rodríguez is getting closer
Seattle is expected to call up their top prospect and the No. 3 best prospect in all of baseball, Julio Rodríguez, at some point this season. Once the 21-year-old joins the big league club, he’ll complete their outfield and should pack a punch to the M’s lineup.
Rodríguez fits the right-field prototype with a middle-of-the-order offensive projection and a strong arm. He has well-above-average power and a better feel for contact than most with this profile. Indeed, Rodríguez struck out in just 18 percent of his plate appearances during his 46-game introduction to Double-A last season. The Mariners have shown they’re more than willing to manipulate the service time of their top prospects to save a buck, suggesting they’ll likely do the same thing with Rodríguez. Nonetheless, he should debut in the majors before the season is out.
Rodríguez will be a great defensive option for the Mariners in center field and while he’s only played in 46 games at the Double-A level (and no higher yet), he’s set to make a huge impact once he joins the Mariners. He’s already proven to be comfortable at a bigger stage when he played for Dominican Republic in the Tokyo Olympics this past summer. Rodríguez, 20 at the time of the tournament, helped guide the DR to their first-ever Olympic medal in baseball when they defeated Korea in the bronze medal game. In fact, Rodríguez hit the tie-breaking RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning of the Dominican Republic’s 6-5 win over Canada to keep the country in medal contention.
The surging prospect has produced in spring training thus far (hitting .307/.388/.507 with an .895 OPS), but expect Seattle to send him to Triple-A to start the season. If Rodríguez does make the Opening Day roster, he’d take over as center fielder with Kelenic likely shifting to left field and Haniger staying at right, while Winker would get more reps at DH.
2. Kelenic needs to rebound in sophomore season
The 2022 season should act as a chance for Jarred Kelenic to truly establish himself. The 22-year-old was considered one of the top prospects in baseball before his MLB debut last year. After struggling, the Mariners will be counting on Kelenic for a big-league awakening this year. It would be hard for Seattle to make a playoff push if Kelenic isn’t productive.
This offseason, Kelenic reached out to Mark McGwire, who helped the youngster try to find consistency at the plate. The two conducted FaceTimes and phone calls, with McGwire dissecting Kelenic’s swing.
In 2021, Kelenic fell into bad ruts at the plate, and after about a month in the big leagues, the Mariners sent him back down to Triple-A after he recorded a .096 batting average with a .378 OPS in his first 92 plate appearances. In July, Kelenic rejoined the Mariners and was able to rebound in time for the Mariners’ late playoff push in September. So now, it’s just a matter of Kelenic reaching a level of consistency in his second MLB season.
3. October or bust
So, we know that we will be getting an expanded playoff field in 2022, more specifically, a 12-team format that’ll include an extra playoff team per league. The (finally) overhauled Mariners ball club is good, but will they be good enough to finally break through? Last year’s performance was certainly promising. The city of Seattle and its fans were awakened during last year’s playoff chase that went down to the wire. This year, the fans aren’t going to be completely satisfied with just another “step forward” of a season. The fans want to see their team in October.
The Mariners are set to complete and finish in the top-half of the American League West. The Houston Astros are again favored to come out on top, but it’ll be a battle between the Mariners and Angels for that second-place spot. Every win will count. It would be fun if the playoff race went to the final day of the regular season again this year, but I’m sure the Mariners are hoping to seal the deal much earlier.