The Seattle Mariners are the perfect embodiment of the old adage about baseball games not being played on paper. On paper, the Mariners would be well below .500 and looking forward to next season, when their top prospects have matured an extra year and contention is a possibility. But, in real life, Seattle is just two games out of a playoff spot.
Entering play on Friday, the Mariners are tied with the Oakland Athletics at 76-64, just behind the Toronto Blue Jays (77-62). The Boston Red Sox (80-62) and New York Yankees (78-62) hold the top two American League Wild Cards, but with so many teams tightly bunched, their grasps on those spots are tenuous at best.
So, Seattle has a great opportunity and that starts with a three-game weekend series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are a dreadful 45-95.
It’s a battle of southpaws as Madison Bumgarner will be on the mound for Arizona while Marco Gonzales gets the ball for the Mariners on Friday night. First pitch from Phoenix is at 10:10 p.m. ET. The BetUS Sportsbook has the Mariners as -145 moneyline favorites while the Diamondbacks are +130. MLB lines have the over/under at eight runs.
Mariners Thrive in Close Games
Before dropping two of three to the first-place Houston Astros — usually automatic Seattle closer Paul Sewald blew a rare save in one loss — the Mariners had won five games in a row. They’ve been winning games basically the same way they have all season: Solid starting pitching, shutdown relief work and timely clutch hits. When that was happening in May, it seemed unsustainable. Now that it has continued into September, it feels less like a fluke.
Seattle has been one of baseball’s best teams in close games, which has allowed the Mariners to be 12 games over .500 despite having a -53 run differential. The Mariners are 29-17 in one-run games and 14-6 in extra-inning games. They have a .809 OPS in two-out situations with runners in scoring position and are performing 23 percent better than league-average in so-called “high leverage” plate appearances, according to Baseball Reference.
Even if Seattle is playing above its head a little bit, it doesn’t change the fact that, routinely, this team has found ways to score late in games and shut down opposing batters when the score is close. Of course, the same cannot be said for the Diamondbacks, who seem to find a new way to lose every night. If you’re betting online, expect Seattle to continue figuring out how to eke out wins against an Arizona team that hasn’t been able to get out of its own way.
Gonzales Has Been Reliable
Gonzales doesn’t have electric stuff or a big arm but he, like his team, finds ways to get batters out. His 4.25 ERA isn’t particularly impressive with offense generally down around baseball and his strikeout, walk, hit and home run numbers are all worse than they were in the shortened 2020 season. Still, outside of a five-run outing against the Diamondbacks in his last start, Gonzales hasn’t allowed more than three runs since July 3.
A big reason for his recent improvements has been cutting down on walks. Gonzales walked just six batters in his six August starts, including one vs Arizona last week. That, coupled with a sharp decline in hits allowed, has given him the opportunity to pitch more effectively and deeper into games.
It’s also good news for Gonzales that Arizona is one of the worst hitting teams in baseball and that the Diamondbacks have the second-fewest home runs, behind only the Pittsburgh Pirates. Arizona did rough Gonzales up five days ago, but it’s tough for a lineup as weak as Arizona’s to copy that kind of performance against a crafty veteran twice in a week. MLB odds reflect that, so it’s smart to take the value and back the Diamondbacks’ runline.
Bumgarner on Cold Spell
The Diamondbacks expected a lot more from Bumgarner when they signed him away from the National League West rival San Francisco Giants to a five-year, $85 million contract. The four-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion has battled injuries and inconsistency while in Arizona and is in the middle of another tough stretch. In his last three starts, Bumgarner has given up 14 runs in 17 innings (a 7.41 ERA) and walked nearly as many batters as he has struck out.
It’s clear that the Bumgarner of old who was winning World Series MVP is not the Bumgarner of today, which is to be expected of a 32-year-old, but the sudden drop-off is alarming nonetheless. He just can’t be relied on to provide quality starts on a routine basis anymore so his start-to-start performances vary wildly, from eight innings of one-run ball against the explosive Philadelphia Phillies to six innings of five-run ball against this middle-of-the-pack Mariners offense in his most recent start.
As far as MLB picks go, it’s tough to expect much out of Bumgarner. Gonzales is far from a dominant force, but he’s pitching well and the Mariners have a sense of urgency to keep pace in the AL Wild Card race that the bottoming-out Diamondbacks just don’t have. Take the juice with Seattle.