It’s Gut Check Time For Julio Rodriguez And The Mariners

julio rodriguez

Alan Berg grew up in Montana, a large, sparsely populated state with exactly zero major pro sports franchises. Hence, when he attended his first big-time sporting event as a wee lad — a Mariners-Royals tilt at Seattle’s late, not-so-great Kingdome — the bar for earning Berg’s loyalty was set sufficiently low for him to swiftly become a lifelong M’s fan.

“In its 46 years of existence, no organization in baseball has been worse,” New York Times columnist and Seattle native Kurt Streeter recently wrote of the team, which has made exactly zero World Series appearances in its barren existence and boasts an active 21-year-long playoff drought.

“It doesn’t get much sadder. They’ve got to be in the same breath as the Detroit Lions,” said Berg, now WynnBET’s vice president of trading, in assessing the Mariners’ place among the most pathetic pro sports entities in North American history.

Last year, the Mariners were overachievers, overcoming a negative run differential to chase a wild card berth — unsuccessfully, it turned out — until the final game of the regular season. This season, with newly signed Cy Young winner Robbie Ray headlining a solid starting rotation, a playoff berth — especially with the addition of a third wild card spot in each league — was all but expected.

However, the Mariners being the Mariners, they spent much of the season’s first half duking it for last place in the AL West. Then came The Brawl and, on its heels, The Streak — an MLB season-high 14 straight wins heading into the All-Star break that catapulted the team into one of the three wild card positions.

Both sides of the broom and a big test ahead

Coming out of the break, though, things quickly got ominous. After swatting a ridiculous 81 home runs in a runner-up finish in the Home Run Derby, runaway Rookie of the Year favorite Julio Rodriguez (-400 at WynnBET) missed an entire three-game series in Seattle against the division-leading Houston Astros with a sore wrist. 

The Mariners, naturally, lost all three games.

“When your team hasn’t made the playoffs in 21 years, you learn not to get too excited by positive stuff,” Berg said of his emotional state of being heading into the Houston series. “The Astros are just so well run, just a really good organization. I feel like the Mariners are finally doing the right things to get to be like the Astros someday.”

That excludes banging on trash cans, one assumes.

Then the lowly Rangers came to town. Rodriguez, a generational talent in center field who plays with the joie de vivre of a Little Leaguer, went yard in his first post-injury at-bat before stroking a massive, three-run homer in the seventh inning Wednesday to clinch a three-game sweep of Texas. Trailing only the Blue Jays for the top AL wild card spot out west, the M’s are back on track — and about to get a prime-time gut check with a seven-game road trip that will find them visiting Houston and the league-leading Yankees, respectively.

“What a world to live in with Julio Rodríguez!”

— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) July 27, 2022

“I think this is the big test to see what they’re really made of,” said Berg. “When your streak gets broken, the pressure’s kind of on them now being in the wild card spot, and the Yankees and Astros aren’t going to be afraid of this team. I think for bookmakers to really start thinking about the Mariners, they’d have to win five of those [seven] games. Realistically, I think even if they could grab three, that could lead them to the confidence level where they think they could lock up a wild card spot.”

Entering Thursday’s play, the Mariners’ odds of winning the World Series ranged from 35/1 at BetMGM to 50/1 at WynnBET, putting them in the same ballpark as the White Sox, Phillies, Cardinals, and Twins. Despite Chicago’s inferior record, the 49-49 White Sox generally have shorter odds to win the AL pennant (17/1 at Barstool) than the 54-45 Mariners (20/1), based almost exclusively on the fact that the South Siders have a vastly easier path to a division title than Seattle, which sits well back of Houston out west.

When presented with this rationale, Berg, whose sportsbook has both teams at 20/1 to win the pennant, said, “That’s exactly the reason. You just get such a better chance to do damage in the playoffs if you can win your division.”

Soto Mojo?

The Mariners have been rumored to be among the teams interested in dealing for disgruntled Nationals slugger Juan Soto by the Aug. 2 trade deadline. But that seems unlikely, given that Seattle will eventually need to sign Rodriguez, whose AL MVP odds are as low as 100/1 at Betfred, to a monster deal, and the thrifty franchise has never been especially keen on breaking the bank for more than a player or two at a time.

“Based on their history, I would be surprised if they made a massive move for someone like Soto,” said Berg. “The price probably is too much for a team that has so much youth. If anything, they might grab a bat, maybe something for the bullpen.

“But maybe this is a time where they feel it’s necessary to go for it and break the 21-year streak.”

Photo: Steven Bisig/USA TODAY

Author: Ryan Gonzales