Seattle Mariners End 20-Year Playoff Drought, Clinch Wild Card Spot

Featuring a talented roster of young players and quality veterans, the Mariners have finally clinched their first postseason berth since 2001.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 30: Julio Rodriguez #44 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates with fans after clinching a postseason birth after beating the Oakland Athletics 2-1 at T-Mobile Park on September 30, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. The Seattle Mariners have clinched a postseason appearance for the first time in 21 years, the longest playoff drought in North American professional sports. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners have finally done it! After countless close misses over years, namely one last season, the Mariners have clinched their first playoff berth since 2001.

Seattle features a talented roster with a star-studded starting rotation and the soon-to-be AL Rookie of the Year in Julio Rodriguez. Yet last night, it was an unsung hero that delivered in the biggest moment, officially ending the longstanding playoff drought by hitting a walk-off homer.

Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh is not a household name, but he put that name on the map last night by hitting that clutch home run. It was his 26th home run of the season, as the former third round has put together a great campaign where he has quietly been one of the best catchers in baseball.

Seattle’s roster is full of great stories like Raleigh, with a team that has come together to form one of the more dangerous playoff rosters in baseball. The Mariners can make a run come October, but considering the magnitude of the achievement it was to get there, let’s take a look back at how they were able to finally put it all together in 2022.

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Finding a Face of the Franchise

While there are a lot of new members of the Mariners that weren’t on this roster last season, the one that has made the biggest impact is their highly-touted rookie, Julio Rodriguez. Seattle proved they were going for it this year when they allowed J-Rod to break camp with the big league club out of spring training and he has delivered on that confidence in him.

The learning curve was certainly steep for Rodriguez, who had an abysmal start to the season where he hit just .205/.284/.260, with no home runs and a 62 wRC+. Everything changed though when the calendar shifted to May, as Rodriguez began to blaze the trail for a Rookie of the Year campaign.

Since May 1st, Rodriguez is hitting .293/.353/.543, with 27 home runs, 72 runs scored, 67 RBIs and a 158 wRC+. He is leading all rookies in home runs, wRC+ and fWAR, while being in the top-three of pretty much every other major statistical category.

With Rodriguez, the Mariners have a cornerstone they can build around for next decade plus, which they ensured when they signed him to a 14-year-old contract extension.

Building a Lineup Around J-Rod

The Seattle Mariners needed to improve their lineup going into this season and they attempted to do so by trading for 2021 All-Star Jesse Winker. Winker was supposed to be a force in the middle of the lineup for Seattle, but it was the other guy that they got in the trade who has really filled that void.

Eugenio Suarez went from trade afterthought to the biggest run producer in the lineup in his first season Seattle. Suarez leads the team with 31 home runs and 85 RBIs and has the second-highest fWAR among the position players to J-Rod at 4.5.

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Along with Suarez, Ty France is another veteran that has been key to the Mariners success this season. France made the All-Star Game for the first time in his career this season and has hit .277/.341/.444, with 20 home runs, 27 doubles, 82 RBIs and a 129 wRC+.

As previously discussed, Cal Raleigh has been a key cog for the Mariners this season, producing a 4.0 fWAR that is the third-best mark on the team. J.P. Crawford has been a constant over at shortstop, while athletic speedsters like Dylan Moore, Sam Haggerty and Adam Frazier have filled in the gaps and been steady contributors as well.

The Mariners have a middle of the road offense compared to other teams around baseball, but they have done enough to support their great pitching staff to become a legit contender in the American League.

Best Playoff Rotation in the American League?

The strength of the Seattle Mariners lies in their pitching, as they have put together one of the best rotation in baseball this season. The first big move the Mariners made was to sign the reigning AL Cy Young Robbie Ray to a five-year, $115 million contract this offseason. Ray hasn’t been quite as dominant this year, but he has still pitched to a 3.58 ERA across 31 starts atop their rotation.

Rookie George Kirby has delivered on the hype of being one of the top pitching prospects in baseball coming into the season, as he has pitched to a 3.21 ERA across 24 starts.

One of the biggest revelations for the Mariners this year has been the performance of sophomore Logan Gilbert, who is leading Seattle in wins (13), starts (32) and innings pitched (185.2), all while pitching to a 3.20 ERA. Ray, Kirby and Gilbert have shared the rotation for most of the season, but what really put the Mariners over the top was their trade deadline acquisition of Luis Castillo.

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In 10 starts with the Mariners, Castillo has pitched to a 3.34 ERA, giving the Mariners four starting pitchers with a sub-3.60 ERA. Castillo will now be a big part of the Mariners future, as they have already re-upped and signed him to a five-year, $108 million extension that will keep this rotation together for years to come.

With the type of pitching they can roll out in a playoff series, Seattle is a dark horse to make some noise during this playoff run.

Considering how long it has been, the Mariners have already had a successful season, but that does not mean they are going to fold up shop and stop pushing to make it even more of success. With a good farm system and an MLB roster full of talent under control, the Mariners aren’t likely to go into another playoff drought any time soon.