Julio Rodríguez is so hot he just melted and reshaped the Mariners’ 2023 season

It’s not like Julio Rodríguez needed to rush to pad his legend. After winning AL Rookie of the Year in 2022 with a 28-homer, 25-steal tour de force and leading the Seattle Mariners to their first postseason berth in more than two decades, his face is probably the second-most common image in the Pacific Northwest, behind the Seattle Space Needle.

With a few more stratospheric weeks like the one he just completed, though, Rodríguez might rise to challenge even that landmark.

The Mariners woke up last Monday 1.5 games back of the third and final AL wild-card spot, relatively fresh off an eight-game winning streak but still stinging from a roller-coaster, extra-innings loss to the Baltimore Orioles in what will probably live on as “the Cedric Mullins game.” The M’s lost that night, too, in walk-off fashion against the Kansas City Royals.

But in that game, Rodríguez collected two hits and four RBIs in what turned out to be an amuse bouche for the rest of the week.

The Mariners have not lost since, and Rodríguez has barely made an out. His week was one of the hottest hitting runs in recent memory — perhaps hot enough to melt away a letdown of a season and reshape it as a triumph.

Here are the various readouts on his scorching series of games:

  • Rodríguez tallied 21 hits, the most in a calendar week since Charlie Blackmon notched 21 between June 10 and June 16, 2019.

  • In the blazing core of that stretch, from Wednesday to Saturday, Rodríguez ripped 17 hits. That set an MLB record for knocks in a four-game span. If you were wondering, he made a total of five outs in that run.

  • Rodríguez’s four consecutive games with four or more hits marked only the second such streak in modern MLB history (since 1903) and the first since Milt Stock of the 1925 Brooklyn Robins.

  • Rodríguez’s season batting average has climbed from .255 to .278, and his park-adjusted wRC+ spiked from a middling 111 to 124.

  • The Mariners won six straight from Tuesday on, including a three-game sweep of the Houston Astros. In doing so, they surpassed the Toronto Blue Jays for the third wild-card spot and pulled within a half-game of the Astros for the second one. What’s more, all of a sudden, it’s a three-team race in the AL West, as Seattle sits only three games back of the Texas Rangers.

  • Over the past week, the Mariners’ chances of making the playoffs, per FanGraphs, rose from 34.1% to 59.4%. Their chances of winning the AL West tripled.

Of course, that was really just the most visible upshot of Rodríguez’s and the Mariners’ surge. Seattle has actually been storming back toward the playoff picture since the calendar flipped to July — or, en Español, to Julio.

Having labored through a 9-15 June, the Mariners looked for all the world like a half-team — a club with a phenomenal pitching staff and no lineup to score behind it. On June 30, their offense ranked 28th in batting average, 24th in on-base percentage, 29th in strikeout percentage and 20th in overall wRC+. They managed to bop some homers and did very little else.

Since July 1, however, they have baseball’s second-best offense (behind the seemingly inevitable Atlanta Braves) and have leaned into the running game. On top of a .346 average and eight homers, Rodríguez has nabbed 15 bases in that span. The lineup at large is still more strikeout-prone than you might like, but since the start of July, Eugenio Suárez and Cal Raleigh have combined for 21 home runs.

Heading into this Monday’s action, the Mariners have a new perspective. Since a trade deadline at which the front office sold closer Paul Sewald for back-of-the-lineup reinforcements (Dominic Canzone and Josh Rojas are playing frequently now) and seemed to lean toward 2023 pessimism, the Mariners have turned things around.

What looked like a sophomore slump for Rodríguez now looks eerily similar to his bombastic 2022 arrival. He now has recorded precisely 560 plate appearances in 2023, mirroring his 2022 total. Last season, he slashed .284/.345/.509, with underlying batted-ball metrics saying he perhaps overperformed by a smidge. This season’s line is up to .278/.336/.462, with those same metrics viewing him as a touch unlucky.

An aggressive hitter who swings often, Rodríguez makes his hay off of hard contact. His 93.2 mph average exit velocity (in the top 4% of MLB hitters) is up from last season, as is his 52.4% hard-hit rate. In the long run, those sorts of numbers are going to yield the star-level production he showed last season and over the past two months.

The most noticeable changes to Rodríguez’s profile this season have been positive. He has taken advantage of new rules and surpassed his 2022 stolen base total. Plus, having only adopted center field last season, Rodríguez now rates as one of the game’s elite defenders (and its preeminent showman).

The Mariners, it seems, will go as Julio goes. And if he keeps going anywhere close to this speed for the rest of the summer, they’ll have a serious shot at a second straight playoff appearance. Seattle doesn’t play another winning team until Sept. 4, when they visit the Cincinnati Reds.

Left on the schedule, the M’s have three games against the Astros (all at home) and seven games against the Rangers (three on the road, four at home). Oh, and those 10 contests are the Mariners’ last 10 games.

If you were trying to choose a player who would relish a dramatic ending, it seems you could do much worse than Julio Rodríguez.

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