The Great Swoon: At Mid-Season, the Mariners Play to Form


My calls have yet to be returned from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, or Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. Nevertheless, I’m going to go ahead and presume that every MLB fan in the world, not just in Seattle, knew that the Mariners were going to be pitching heavy and hitting light in the 2024 MLB season. Including all in the organization.

So no one can claim surprise at the outcomes here at midseason. But that restrained logic does little to diminish the futility of the moment. The Mariners lost for the sixth time in a nine-game homestand Sunday, which concluded with two defeats in three tries with the Toronto Blue Jays, a mediocre outfit this season but still packing the same boozy boxcars of fans that rattle T-Ball Park with Canadian cacophony.

The three games were each decided by a single run, as were several others in a streak that has reached 13 losses in 19 games. The aggravation specifically regarding Sunday was that the Mariners had a 4-1 lead into the seventh inning, but the overtaxed bullpen surrendered a three-run homer. Meanwhile the Blue Jays relievers, perhaps the sorriest bunch in baseball, helped hold the Mariners scoreless over the final five of the 10 innings to win, 5-4. The locals struck out 14 times and left 15 runners on base.

The feebleness of the team with baseball’s worst batting average, .216, and most strikeouts (nearly 70 percent more than the teams with fewest) was apparent in the voice of catcher Cal Raleigh.

“Each guy has a long track record,” he said quietly post-game of his fellow batsmen, nearly all of whom are below career averages. “It’s pretty obvious. I don’t have an answer. I think we all wish we had answers.

“We know who’s in our division.”

Therein lies the part of the season that hasn’t gone to expectations. The past two World Series champions, the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, reside in the American League West, and each has had a mediocre first half. That accounts for most of the explanation about why the Mariners, with six road games left until the All-Star break, somehow are in first place at 49-43, including a 17-5 mark within the division. No one expects the Astros and Rangers to long remain lame, so the early opening for the Mariners is subject to a late close.

The rest of the explanation is that Seattle’s starting pitching has held serve. The point was underscored Sunday with news that Logan Gilbert was selected for the annual All-Star Game July 16 in Arlington, TX. He may not pitch because he’s scheduled to start the Sunday game prior, but the reward is in representing. Mariners pitchers have allowed 142 runs at home, fewest in the majors. They lead in home ERA, fewest walks and hits per nine innings, strikeout-to-walk ratio and batting average (.201). The road numbers are less impressive, but it appears they have the most essential ingredient to postseason success. What the club lacks is so profound that it threatens to make irrelevant the essential ingredient.

A tweet by @Codifybaseball explained it in a glance by offering the team batting averages ahead of Sunday’s games of each division leader:

.260 Phillies
.256 Orioles
.256 Dodgers
.256 Brewers
.246 Guardians
.216 Mariners

It would almost be easier if these Mariners were like the teams of the 1970s and ’80s, which were hapless. Today’s Mariners are, well, hap. Or maybe that should be half. As in half good. They can hang, but participation ribbons are faint recompense.

Of course, fans and the rest of the MLB anticipate the Mariners will bust a move ahead of the trade deadline July 30. It’s plausible, but two things are working against a transformative deal.

One is that the number of teams huddled near .500 and faint playoff contention this summer is so swollen that fewer quality hitters are likely to be made available, so the bidding will be more intense. The other is the old standby: Ownership frugality. The roster payroll barely increased following the 2023 fizzle and remains below MLB average.

Ownership worked up an additional fig leaf in the off-season with the financial decay of ROOT Sports. As with most regional sports networks around the U.S., the teams they carry are wobbling upon a rock-strewn path of how to make money streaming their content that won’t price out the average fan, while not bothering wealthy owners with capital calls to fund annual operations. But the temporary TV revenue mystery bothers most teams, and thus remains a weak excuse in Seattle for financial conservatism in a monopoly industry that is absent a player payroll salary cap.

As has almost always been the case under chairman John Stanton and president Jerry Dipoto, the club will resist acquiring expensive, short-term veteran rentals in exchange for inexpensive farm-grown prospects. But when the baseball bosses bust on top young players like Kyle Lewis, Evan White, and Jarred Kelenic — along with the increasing mystery of Julio Rodriguez — the margin for error gets wiped out. With each passing season absent playoffs, the mostly young pitching stars age into arbitration years and long-term contract extensions that the owners abhor. A great squandering will be upon the franchise.

Then again, the financially unlimited New York Yankees are amid a similar swoon, having lost 15 of their past 20 games. At least they can buy their way out of trouble. The Mariners so far are countering with free hotdogs delivered via teensy parachutes from the stadium rooftop.

Mariners fans knew enough in spring not to be surprised. That doesn’t mean the current pathos leaves no room for shock.

Art Thiel
Art Thiel
Art Thiel is a longtime sports columnist in Seattle, for many years at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and now as founding editor at


  1. It hurts to not see this organization invest in the best players. Those of us who have followed the team for decades or maybe since its inception, wonder if we ever will see the team in a parade or for that matter, a World Series.

  2. While JP must be thrilled the M’s are flirting with that magic .540 winning percentage (henceforth referred to as the “Dipoto Line”), assuming the recent trajectory holds true the Mariners will find themselves comfortably behind both the Rangers and Astros by early September.

    The great thing about grifters like the M’s ownership group is they have a seemingly plausible answer for every scenario. Whenever they’re pressed about investing in the team, from rote memory John Stanton always says “our goal is to compete for a playoff spot every year.” Notably absent from this any mention about really wanting to win a world series (heaven forbid). So when the soulless, ballless JP does nothing at trade deadline, his answer will be “if our hitters just start hitting to their career averages, we’ll be just fine.” Write it down. No sense of urgency on their part given there really isn’t any competition for the summertime sports dollars. A sharp contrast to the Kraken, who spent like drunken sailors in FA market, simply in ANTICIPATION of having to compete with a Sonics in a couple years.

    The M’s steadfast commitment to Dipoto Line is their strategic effort to strike the perfect balance between being modestly competitive most years without requiring any real financial commitment. It’s a perfectly cynical strategy; gin up false hope knowing that gullible fans will continue to buy tickets until September when they’re out of the hunt. The team succeeds financially and given fans’ short memories they can resell the on-the-field snake oil again next year. Until the fanbase stops believing in “next year” nothing is going to change.


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