On April 22, Astros starter Collin McHugh burst onto the baseball scene by fanning 12 Mariners and leading Houston to a 5-2 win at Safeco Field.
The Mariners had just dropped their eighth game in a row. Their 7-13 record was only better than three other MLB teams. Kyle Seager was hitting .156 with no home runs and two RBIs. Michael Saunders was sitting at .176, also with no homers and two RBIs. Robinson Cano was batting .269. The Mariners had scored 71 runs on the season while allowing 80.
April 23 was progressing in a very similar fashion for Seattle. The Mariners trailed the Astros 3-2 going into the bottom of the ninth inning, staring at a sweep at the hands of Houston and a nine-game losing streak. Former Mariners draft pick Josh Fields entered the game to try and close down the win for the second day in a row and pour more salt in a gaping wound.
Cano led off the inning by whacking a single to center field. Corey Hart followed with a knock to left. Justin Smoak went down on strikes for the first out of the inning.
Seager then stepped to the plate. He wasted no time by jumping on the first offering and crushing a three-run blast into the stands in right field, setting off a frenzy at Safeco. He slugged his first homer of the season and surpassed his RBI total with one swing.
He also changed the course of the Mariners' season.
Since that momentous at-bat, Seager has tortured MLB pitching. He is hitting .317 with 13 home runs and 57 RBIs. His slash line (.317/.376/.575) compares with the very best in baseball over the last 71 days. For example, Detroit's Miguel Cabrera has slashed .332/.387/.578 with 12 home runs and 57 RBIs during the same span. Despite his early struggles, Seager has pushed himself to eighth in the American League in RBIs and has made an emphatic case for a spot on the All-Star team.
Isolating Seager's numbers in wins and losses further shows his role as a catalyst.
• In wins: .345/.429/.614, 8 home runs, 48 RBIs
• In losses: .203/.254/.353, 5 home runs, 11 RBIs
Seager has not been alone. Since April 23, Cano has hit .340 and driven in 43 runs. Saunders has hit .279 while scoring 25 and driving in 24. James Jones has raced onto the scene by swiping 17 bases and hitting at .289. He's second on the club with 34 runs scored despite not making his first start until May. The increase in production has resulted in the Mariners scoring 288 runs, eighth-most in baseball.
Seattle's offense has been good, but the pitching can only be described as completely dominant. No team in the American League has allowed fewer runs than the Mariners since April 23. Felix Hernandez has led the charge with his microscopic 2.13 ERA in 93 innings. Chris Young boasts a 3.09 ERA and Hisashi Iwakuma has been more than steady at 3.33. The bullpen, however, has been nearly unhittable.
Reliever ERAs since April 23:
• Joe Beimel, 1.10
• Yoervis Medina, 1.74
• Tom Wilhelmsen, 2.02
• Fernando Rodney, 2.25
• Dominic Leone, 2.31
• Charlie Furbush, 2.95
• Danny Farquhar, 3.28
The Mariners have scored 79 more runs than they've allowed since that pivotal April date and they own the best record in baseball in that stretch:
• Mariners, 40-25
• Athletics, 38-26
• Angels, 37-26
• Giants, 36-27
• Tigers, 37-27
• Nationals, 35-28
• Pirates, 35-28
• Orioles, 36-29
• Brewers, 36-29