The Seattle Mariners have proven that they're ready to be true contenders in the American League. In 2022, we saw them take huge strides in the World Series sweepstakes behind an impressive display of fundamental baseball and talent. Now that the M's have established the standard for this new era, I've decided to list five reasons why Mariners fans should be looking forward to 2023.
The J-Rod Show
Among the numerous bright spots the Mariners had in 2022, the emergence of rookie superstar Julio Rodriguez was arguably the most satisfying to watch. It goes without saying that he’s the new face of this franchise and the Mariners would agree given their eagerness to lock him up for the foreseeable future and beyond. Ultimately ending the season with a .284/.345/.509 slash line, J-Rod will look to build upon a rookie campaign that was highlighted by an AL Rookie of the Year award as well as an impressive power display at the Home Run Derby.
Julio plays the game with a unique swagger and isn't one to shy away from the spotlight despite him only being 22 years old. The league is on notice and it’ll be interesting to see not only how pitchers adjust to his bat in his second year but also how Julio embraces his role and accepts the challenge.
The Addition of Hernandez and Wong
This offseason has seen the front office attempt to bolster the roster on both sides of the ball and these two additions have me the most excited. The first acquisition was outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, whom the Mariners saw in the Wild Card series against Toronto. The Mariners shipped Erik Swanson and Adam Macko to the Blue Jays in exchange for Hernandez who is coming off a year where he smacked 25 home runs and drove in 77 runs, good for second-best in his career thus far.
MLB Network recently ranked him as the eighth-best right fielder in the league thanks in large part to his .519 SLG since 2020 and his being in the 80th percentile or higher in xwOBA (86) and sprint speed (84). The pairing of Teoscar and Julio in the outfield, along with A.J Pollock who will most likely take over part of the platoon in left field, should give the pitching staff confidence night in and night out. Hernandez is entering his prime offensively as well and he's sure to compliment the other bats in the lineup to cause trouble for opposing pitchers.
Speaking of a solid glove and bat, let us be reminded that Kolten Wong is now a Mariner. Everyone appreciates a guy that just goes out there and plays the game the right way, finding ways to get on base and be a team player. Since Wong has been in the league he’s always, at least in my eyes, been admirable due to his scrappiness and strength fundamentally. Wong’s strongest asset, his defense, automatically makes the infield that much better and his bat is good enough to get a couple of different looks in the lineup.
Wong hit .251 last season in Milwaukee, a dip from his .272 BA in 2021, but this change of scenery could prove beneficial for him to get back on track offensively after a down year. I couldn’t be more excited to see him making ridiculous plays like this in a Mariners uniform.
The AL West has been an uphill battle for anybody not named Houston in recent years as their ability to succeed in homegrown production and free-agent signings have been second to none. They’ll still be favorites to win the division and defend their World Series title but the gap amongst the rest of the pack has slowly dwindled.
The Rangers made headlines after inking DeGrom to a 5-year, $185 million contract just a year removed from spending half a billion dollars on Seager and Semien. They’ve gone ahead and signed pitchers Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney, and Martin Perez to form a sound pitching rotation. While Oakland is clearly in the beginning stages of what could be a long-term rebuild, the Angels are still a respectable team so long as they continue to have Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.
Some of their bigger off-season moves have been adding Tyler Anderson, Gio Urshela, and Hunter Renfroe in an attempt to bring postseason baseball back to Anaheim. Healthy competition within the division will make for more enjoyable baseball as a fan and help this Mariners team, who made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2001, keep their foot on the gas.
New MLB Schedule
MLB has implemented a new schedule that allows for a series against every team in the league. The number of divisional games has been lowered to account for the meetings with other teams, which I think is a great idea. When the schedules are released for the upcoming season, our first reaction is to see who is coming into town and which new teams we’ll be hosting or visiting. Now we have the chance of seeing matchups we otherwise wouldn’t have seen and this is beneficial for multiple reasons.
For one, this gives M’s fans outside of Seattle a chance to see the team that couldn’t before. Depending on where you live, the Mariners might only be in town once every two to three years. Similarly, if you follow a player from another team closely now they’ll pay Seattle a visit thanks to the new format. Secondly and probably more importantly, this could be a good thing for any future meetings down the road in the playoffs.
Teams now have the ability to say they’ve seen another team’s roster once and can analyze how that matchup faired for them in order to know what to expect. For a team like the Mariners where the playoffs are now an expectation, the opportunity to play against the best is a necessity.
Home Games and Mariners Mania
Seattle has been deprived of a good baseball team for quite some time now. I wasn't old enough to remember how good the Mariners teams of the late 90s and early 2000s were, but this last season gave me a glimpse of what the atmosphere must've been like.
Remember when the Mariners and Yankees went 13 innings and every at-bat had the crowd on its feet? The tension in the ballpark, Castillo's pitching gem, and Torrens' walk-off single. It was baseball at its best and it was a moment, though nerve-wracking and torturous, savored by every Mariners fan watching along.
This team has been fun to watch and the anticipation going into the 2023 season is even higher than last year. Young superstars, legitimate pitching, and a hungry fanbase that deserves a championship? Sign me up.