The Seattle Mariners took the next big step in their playoff chase by beating the Oakland A’s 3-2 in the first game of their season-concluding series. In doing so they crossed the 10 wins over .500 barrier, to 85-74. And while the win wasn’t pretty, it was critical to their post-season hopes.
Despite the critical win, the M’s hopes faltered as the teams ahead of them simply didn’t do their job-lose.
The critical Detroit-Cleveland series was short-circuited by a rain postponement, leaving the Tigers a half game ahead of Seattle. It will only be made up if the missing game has an effect on the playoffs, and it well may.
The Toronto-Baltimore series has taken the worst of all possible turns for the Mariners hopes. The O’s went into the Rogers Centre holding the second wild card spot, a game behind the Blue Jays. A Blue Jays sweep was the best outcome. It would have dropped the O’s into a tie with the M’s, a half game behind Detroit. An Orioles sweep would have left the Jays holding the second wild card, with the M’s only a game behind. A Blue Jays series win would have left the Mariners a game behind. But no, the worst possible outcome was a Baltimore series win. They are now tied with Toronto, both teams two games ahead of the M’s with three games to play.
The M’s do have some advantages going into the weekend series. The first is they are playing at home. All three of their competitors, Detroit, Baltimore and Toronto are on the road. The M’s are also playing the A’s, with one of the worst records in major league baseball with a .421 win percentage. here is how the other teams shape up:
Blue Jays @ Boston Red Sox .579 win pct.
Orioles @ New York Yankees ..522 win pct.
Detroit @ Atlanta Braves ..418 win pct.
The M’s need to win, but they are going to need significant help for the playoff picture to break in their direction. Even one loss will be one too many. It may take 89 wins for a wild card berth this year, and the M’s can’t get that many.
The M’s clobbered the Astros 12-4 yesterday, improving their record to 84-74. That follows on the heels of Tuesday’s clank job, losing 8-4 after surrendering four unearned runs on a pair of errors in the sixth inning, losing ground to the Tigers, and failing to advance on the Orioles.
So the M’s head home to face the A’s, having kicked dirt in the face of the Astros on their home field. Four games to play, and they pretty much have to win them all. The Orioles beat the Jays 3-2, and Detroit beat the Indians in a rain-shortened game, 6-3. The Mariners remain two games behind the O’s for the second wild card spot, with the Tigers loitering in between, a game ahead of them.
The M’s find themselves ten games over .500. It is the high water mark of their season. Again. The M’s reached this point on May 25th, August 20th, September 14th, September 26th, and September 28th. On the first three occasions, the mark was followed by long bouts of losing-enough for some Mariners fans to lose hope (sniff.) Though the August 26th game was followed by a loss, followed by a win, who knows what will happen tomorrow.
What’s more, the game following each of the zenith days was awful. May 27th was a terrible drubbing by the hapless Twins, with Felix giving up six runs and ending up on the DL. August 21st was the day the M’s took a three run lead over the Brewers into the 9th inning only to have Tom Wilhelmsen melt down and Nori Aoki watch a fly ball drop at his feet for a two run double. M’s lose 7-6. September 14th the M’s rode an eight game win streak into Safeco Field, only to be two hit by Collin McHugh and the Astros. They also made three errors and Felix struggled. M’s lose 6-0. September 26th was another start by the King. He cruised into the sixth leading the Astros 4-2 when errors by Ketel Marte and Adam Lind sabotaged the game, allowing four unearned runs. M’s lose 8-4
So what’s the deal? What’s the magic in the ten win barrier? Is it just coincidence, lack of confidence, or the Mariners buying press that they’re just not good? Each of the losses following that number ten have featured some aspect of Mariners woes emblematic of the wild 2016 season. An inconsistent King, defensive lapses, and bullpen catastrophe.
What’s clear, however, is if the Mariners are to have a shot at the playoffs they can’t settle in at 86-76. They have to win all their games against the A’s, and get a little help to boot. On Monday, the M’s could look back on these post ten win days and simply cringe.
With my fingers crossed: Go M’s. Beat Oakland
It was a tough night to follow Mariners baseball. The first presidential debate was on the tube and the wonderfully talented Missus Smyth insisted I watch it with her. I was able to check in on the first couple of innings, and was gratified to see the M’s were up on Nellie Cruz’s ground out, but then I went into a debate-imposed baseball blackout mode until about 7:45.
When I was able to tune into the game, the Mariners were up 3-1. Robinson Cano hit his career best 34th home run and James Hoyt managed to botch Ben Gamel’s bunt to score Ketel Marte. I walked in on wunderkind Edwin Diaz’s ninth inning.
Sometimes I wonder why I turn on the television. I often feel like me watching the M’s is a curse. They’ve lost the last four games I’ve attended at Safeco, including two that ended important win streaks. I was there the night Fernando Rodney crashed and burned against the A’s in 2014, essentially ending the M’s hopes for post season play. I am strychnine, I am the kiss of death, I am the evil eye.
And so it went for Diaz. A few bloops, bouncers and bleeders later, the score was tied, the save was blown, and momentum shifted to the home team. The game was on the line, and the M’s, so sensitive to atmospherics all year long, might have slipped into a season-ending funk.
But Drew Storen managed to dispose of the Astros in the tenth. Robinson Cano drove another second deck shot out to right. Nick Vincent held on for the win.
With the team struggling to score runs, the Mariners have had to fall back on a couple of guys to get it done. On Sunday in Minneapolis it was Cruz. Last night it was Cano. Cruz was clearly in agony with every swing of the bat. Who knows whether he can finish the season. He says he can play, but the grimace accompanying each rip at the plate says otherwise. Kyle Seager is in his September funk. Mike Zunino is back to being Mike Zunino. As much as I’m encouraged by their performances since their respective call-ups, Nori Aoki and Jesus Sucre are still just Nori Aoki and Jesus Sucre.
The M’s simply aren’t getting a lot of offensive production. Over their past 11 games the Mariners are averaging 3.27 runs per game. That includes a 7-3 win over the Astros on September 18th, and the 10-1 rout of the Twins last Friday. Those two games represent nearly half the 36 runs the team has scored since September 14th.
For almost every player on this team, each day represents the most important game they’ve ever played in. Last night with the season on the line, Cano seized the heart of this team and this fanbase and showed why he is the $240 million man. Last night he put on the blue suit and dragged his team kicking and screaming to victory. The others will have to doff their Clark Kent garb for the last six games to drag this team into the playoffs, and find a blue suit of their own. The cape is optional
I traveled to Safeco Field to catch Felix Hernandez’s start against the Astros on September 16th. It’s tough for me to make my way from Puyallup to Safeco on a school day, but I made myself a promise to sit in the King’s Court, so the King was pitchin’, maybe for the last time at home this season and I was there.
Gah, what a mistake. Just to be clear, I’d rather handcuff myself to a carboard cut-out of Chone Figgins and try to sell season tickets in a homeless encampment than sit in the King’s Court again. I lay down my dough to see a Mariners game, watch every pitch, and see every play. That’s all I’m there for, and usually I love it. Unfortunately, the other folks in the King’s Court are there for something else, and it mostly doesn’t involve a baseball game. Major drinking, behavior that reminded me of my mostly enjoyable days teaching 10 and 11 year olds-but not so pretty in somebody 20 years older. No sense of baseball etiquette. And the inexplicable compulsion of a few lost souls to wear their Seahawks jerseys to a Mariners game in which they’ve just gotten a free yellow Felix Hernandez shirts.
Of course, making the experience even less fun was the game itself. The King, was not very King-like. In 4.1 innings, Felix allowed 6 runs, 5 earned, with only three K’s. He was aided and abetted in his ineffectiveness by Ketel Marte and Kyle Seager, who made three errors between the two of them. Unforgivable clankers, they simply weren’t paying enough attention to. Nothing to cheer for here.
Adding to all of this was the M’s relative ineffectiveness against the Houston starter, right-hander Collin McHugh. McHugh is a 6’2″, skinny right hander, who doesn’t have overpowering stuff. He’s not a death-dealing lefty who often negates a lot of the Mariners strength. On that Sept. 16th evening McHugh held the M’s to two hits, walked a pair and struck out six in seven innings of work. They looked bad, and never threatened to score in the 6-0 final.
The real problem is that McHugh is the Astros pitcher facing Hisashi Iwakuma when the M’s take the field tonight in Minute Maid Field in what amounts to a must-win game. With seven games remaining and 2.5 games behind Baltimore for the second wild card spot, the Mariners are running out of time and very little margin for error.
It would be one thing if the September game was just one of those nights, but in four starts this year, McHugh has owned the Mariners. In 25 innings, McHugh has allowed 16 hits, 8 walks and 3 (!) earned runs, and struck out 24. That is good for 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA.
It hasn’t always been that way. For his career, McHugh had success against the M’s, but not utter dominance. Coming into the 2016 season he was 5-3, and his career ERA against Seattle is 3.96, including this year’s microscopic rating. And just by comparison, for the rest of the league, McHugh is 12-10 with a 4.61 ERA in 170 innings. Walter Johnson, he ain’t.
So the M’s better figure out what vitamins ol’ Collin has been taking, or at least manage to deal with his off speed and breaking stuff that many pitchers are using effectively against Seattle the last month of the season. Tonight is really important and they badly need a win against a stubborn Houston team.
With their playoff hopes hanging by a thread, the Mariners rolled out three home runs to overcome the pesky Twins on this final road trip of the season. The M’s won 4-3, and head off to Houston for a critical three game series. Seattle took two of three from the Twins at the Target Center, and are 82-73. They are a game behind Detroit, and 2.5 games behind Baltimore for the second wild card spot.
The M’s don’t play either of the teams ahead of them in the standings, so all they can worry about is the teams they are playing. Many writers have claimed 88 wins as the magic number required to get into the playoffs. Some have said 87. Any way you look at it, the M’s have little room for error as they play Houston at MinuteMaid Park, where they are a discouraging 2-5 this year. One loss to give, maybe two, the Mariners simply have to win.
They won today, Sunday, and they won it with the long ball. The Mariners have 209 home runs on the year, good enough for fourth in the American League, behind Tampa Bay, Toronto and Baltimore .
Nelson Cruz had two more dingers today, together with 3 RBI’s. The Boomstick is hot, and is on one of those rolls in which everything is hit hard. In Saturday night’s loss in Minneapolis, Cruz drove a ball 493 feet for the longest homer in the American League this season. Off Hector Santiago in the second inning of today’s contest, he broke his bat, and then drove the next pitch 430 feet into the left field stands. In the sixth inning he tweaked his wrist before hitting another homer to left.
In his two seasons with Mariners, Nelson Cruz has simply been Steady Eddie. Though his power may periodically go on a brief hiatus, I’ve been impressed with how well he’s done the little things, driving the ball up the middle to pick up an RBI with two outs, or hitting a sacrifice fly to pick up a run. His batting average is down a bit, but he reached the 100 RBI mark to go with his 41 homers. Cruz received MVP votes last year, but I honestly think he’s having a better year, and is, if anything, more valuable to Mariners in 2016.
As the M’s take the field for three in their MinuteMaid house of horrors, I’ll always remember this from May 1 2015. It involves bats, balls, trains and Boomsticks.
They’ll need a little more Nelson Cruz to leave the Astros in the dust in their march to the post-season.
And let’s not forget
Jesus Sucre may well be no worse than the second-best catcher on the Mariners right now. He is a rock-solid defender with a great throwing arm, and now he’s hitting a bit too. 11-32 with a homer since his call-up from Tacoma, he must figure into the team’s calculations for 2017-especially since Iannetta, Zunino, and the immortal Clevenger have not exactly grabbed it for themselves. Zunino and Sucre in 2017? Sounds good to me.
In Speaking of Clevenger
Steve Clevenger tweeted some really stupid stuff about the tragic situation in Charlotte last week. When I read it, I shook my head. But I’m also a firm believer in the first amendment and the right to free expression. I’ve tweeted my support to Colin Kaepernick and those in the NFL supporting him. While I firmly disagree with the tone and content of Clevenger’s comments, I support his right to say it-as well as the consequences for saying stupid stuff. I truly wish the Mariners could have checked one more box-the stupid public comments box-in Clevenger’s file, along with the boxes like-lousy catcher, can’t hit much, and can’t stay healthy, let him play out the season (on the DL)and drop him out the bomb bay door at season’s end. It would have cost them little, and would have given support to an important individual right.
Farewell Jose Fernandez
This morning’s news that Jose Fernandez died in a boating accident in Miami was hearbreaking. At age 24, Fernandez had already demonstrated he was one of the best young pitchers in major league baseball, the future of the Marlins pitching staff, and an important cog in a Miami revival. A Cuban refugee who left that island under gunfire, only to make a harrowing sea voyage to Mexico, it is ironic that he lost his life in a foolish boating accident near his home. I wish his family and his team only the best.
The Mariners are at 78-68 a game and a half behind Toronto in the Wild Card chase. What does this mean?
- To get there the M’s won their last eight games, a season-longest win streak. It’s good to be in a playoff chase when you’re hot.
- With last night’s 2-1 nail biter over the Angels the M’s once again move to 10 games above .500 tying the season’s high marks achieved May 25th and August 20th.
- With 78 wins, the M’s already surpassed last season’s dismal 76 win total with 16 games left to play.
The Mariners clearly have big mo’ on their side as they are coming down the home stretch. Their road sweeps of the wretched A’s and vile Angels disposes of two “must beat” foes. With 16 games remaining, it seems to me they must win at least ten of those to have a shot at the playoffs.
But with an off day, the M’s can just kick back and see who’s doing what to whom. Just home from school, I see the Tigers have already been rubbed out by the disrespectful Twins. that does two important things: 1) eases the Mariners into a tie with Detroit, the last team in front of them on the road to the Wild Card, and 2) reminds us that the Twins, crappy as they may be, have been poisonous to many good teams, including the Mariners over Memorial Day weekend.
On this off day there are reasons for optimism.
Rotation health-Except for the Tai Walker’s September 8th start against Texas, starters have gone at least six inning. In that game, still sorting out his new mechanics, Walker still managed five. With a stable five running out to the mound, and taking care of business, the bullpen is rested and effective. Walker and Ariel Miranda continue to improve their games. A team can’t have too much pitching in a pennant race. This is a mark in the team’s favor.
The schedule-With the completed west coast trip, the M’s are down to only six more road games. Good news for the M’s. For the first time since 2009, they have a much better home than road record. Though the M’s were 41-40 at Safeco in 2014, they’ve simply struggled to take advantage of their home park. On the strength of their sweep, the M’s own a 38-37 road record, but with a 40-31 score at home, I like their chances. Further, the teams left to play, either aren’t very good or aren’t playing very well presently. The A’s are terrible, six games worth of terrible. The Blue Jays are still holding the second wild card, but just aren’t winning right now. The Astros are the M’s next opponent, have faltered over their past ten games, and received tough injury news that MVP favorite Jose Altuve has a lat issue and may not play in Seattle. Astros third baseman Alex Bregman also left Wednesday’s game with a hamstring. It’s a tough time to develop injuries, but I’ll take it. That just leaves the Twins, and they have been giant-killers (actually Rangers, Indians, and Mariner killers,) but I am relying on their fundamental badness, and that Seattle may be anointed by God to win this thing.
The core + more-Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager continue to put runs on the board, but we’re at one of those moments when others in the lineup are really chipping in and we see it in the box score. Mike Zunino is a warmish .286/.375/.786 with two home runs and four RBI’s over the past 7 days. Facing a bevy of right handed pitching, Seth Smith has gotten plenty of recent playing time and in the last 8 games hit .286/..355/.643 with three homers and 6 RBI’s. Nori Aoki and Leonys Martin have also hit well recently. Others have added when they can, but it’s been nice to see the offense as more of a team travail.
Yes, things look good from my deck chair on this lovely off day. The Tigers and Royals have lost. The Orioles are losing to the lowly Rays. I’m waiting on the Blue Jays-Angels game. to start in L.A. The Yankees stole a march on the idle M’s with a win over Boston. My fingers are carefully crossed as I follow through on a December promise to sit in The King’s Court at tomorrow’s game against the Astros. Yes this could all be nothing but hope, starlight and swamp gas, but go M’s, and let’s win this thing.
Tuesday’s 8-0 Mariners win over the Angels had a little something for everyone. Pitching, homers, some sloppy play, but, most importantly the M’s showed they are a team on the move as they kept pace with the Wild Card leaders and edged closer to the Tigers and Yankees, the next two teams ahead of them in the playoff chase.
Taijuan Walker carried the heavy burden of high expectations on him all season, and mostly misfired from May through August. Last night, Walker threw his best game of the season: nine innings of shutout ball, allowing three hits, no walks and 11 K’s. For a guy who couldn’t get out of the first inning two starts ago against these same Angels, Walker has come very far, very fast. His performance solidifies an improving rotation at just the right time.
If you’re all about the dingers, Tuesday night’s game offered three for your inspection. Nelson Cruz hit his 36th off youngster Alex Meyer in the first inning to give the M’s the early lead. It was a 426 foot mortar shot into the left field stands that somehow Cruz managed to keep fair.The Mariners manufactured a run in the 2nd, when Leonys Martin led off with a single, stole second, and advanced to third on Dan Vogelbach’s first big league hit. Ketel Marte scored Martin with a sacrifice fly.Nori Aoki followed Marte with a line drive homer to right center field. As Walker cruised, setting down every Angels batter, the M’s loaded the bases in the sixth and watched Seth Smith unload them with a grand slam to right field, 8-0 M’s.
With the M’s safely ahead, and Walker seeming to pitch the best game of his career, the only question left was the unspoken words of all baseball fans-could I be witnessing history? Walker was perfect through 5 2/3’s innings, but a sloppy throw by Marte and missed scoop by first baseman Vogelbach led to an error and the Angels first baserunner, Kaleb Cowart. The next batter was out, and Walker’s march through the Angels offense continued. Kole Calhoun singled to end the no-hitter seventh, but Walker finished up the shutout on 113 pitches.
The Mariners seventh straight win leaves them only a half game behind Detroit and New York in the Wild Card chase, and 2.5 games behind Toronto and Baltimore, the current AL Wild Card leaders. Tonight they play their final game of the season against the Angels before heading home Friday to open a three game series against the Astros. Scheduled starting pitchers are Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Jhoulis Chacin.
With 19 games left to play, the M’s crept ever so so slightly up the Wild Card ladder with their sweep of the Oakland A’s. They leap-frogged over the faltering Kansas City Royals, equaled the Houston Astros and tightened up the clot of teams ahead of them, climbing to within a game and half of Detroit and the Yankees. There’s still plenty of work to do, but the M’s have roughly doubled their playoff probability according to FanGraphs, from 6.7% to 12.0%
The M’s trashed a pretty awful A’s team over the weekend, getting by on solid starting performances by Hisashi Iwakuma, Felix Hernandez and James Paxton. The games featured no bullpen meltdowns. Saturday’s 14-3 demolition derby had plenty of scoring for the offense-only devotees.
Sunday’s 3-2 nail biter had just enough for those who love tight games (like me.) Dave Niehaus would have called it a barn-burner. But perhaps the best part was seeing a glimpse of what might be the outfield-of-the-future as Guillermo Heredia and Ben Gamel flanked veteran center fielder Leonys Martin, and looked like greyhounds compared to Mariners outfields of the recent past. Now if they can just get on base a bit.
But we leave Oakland behind for the moment and head down to Anaheim and the Angels, who likewise are putrid. The M’s feature Ariel Miranda Monday night. I’ve taken an increasing liking to the Cuban lefty, and he continues to show improvement as the season progresses. On Tuesday we’ll see the re-tooling Taijuan Walker, before heading home after Wednesday’s season finale against Los Angeles.
The triumvirate of Kole Calhoun, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols have led the Angels to an 8-8 record vs the Mariners. The M’s must do better than that to have a shot at the playoffs. With 19 games remaining, the Mariners likely can’t lose more than five. The M’s will need to solve the riddles posed by their rivals to the South to have a meaningful chance going forward.
This was quite the sport weekend. With Dawgs trampling the undermanned Vandals on Saturday, and WSU tripping at the least minute in Boise, it set the stage for Sunday’s heroics. Yes, the Seahawks won in the last 30 seconds on Russell Wilson’s gimpy ankle. But I didn’t see it. See I was tuned into Ketel Marte’s clutch single after Mike Zunino’s leadoff double in the ninth. Edwin Diaz’s complete domination of the A’s to wrap up the game and insure the sweep was all the excitement I needed, or could handle.
If last year was a constant, repetitive nightmare for this Mariners fan, 2016 is a season bordering on severe bi-polar symptoms. I ranged from weeks of ecstatic flights of post-season fantasy, to valleys of hopeless gloom resembling 2010. Blech, got to purge that from my mind. No this is not commentary on my own emotional and psychological condition, it is the 2016 Mariners season. The exhilaration of May, to the stone, cruel reality of June, the early August comeback, and late August crash.
The 2016 Mariners campaign is the story of The Tease. The M’s have shown the ability to solve their problems for a couple of weeks at a time, and then absolutely fallen off a cliff. Six wins followed by a collapse. Not six wins then .500 ball for ten days. Six wins followed by an absolute nosedive.
And here we are. It’s September 10th. At 73-68, twenty one games left to play, 3.5 games out of the second wild card with four teams in front of them. Do the M’s have a shot at the playoffs? Probably not. But they’ve won three straight, play five more games against the A’s and Angels. Of course they can if they go 15-6, 16-5 the rest of they way. Maybe. Sure. And the teams in front of them obligingly lose. Doable. Maybe.
Here are a few factors that may contribute to their fate:
The Rotation Cannot be a Circus
If I had to point to one decisive factor in the Mariners season it is the instability in the Mariners rotation. The M’s started the season in a seemingly good position with Felix, Iwakuma, Miley, Walker and Karns and Paxton in the minors. All are guys with some success at the major league level. It seemed to me they were set. Five months later, only Iwakuma is close to making 30 starts. Due to injury and ineffectiveness, only Felix (20) and Walker (21) have made twenty starts. Okay, Miley made 19 starts before being shipped off to Baltimore for target practice and his replacement, Ariel Miranda has made six starts.
But the injuries to the King and Walker, Paxton, and Karns, and ineffective innings by virtually everyone in the rotation has led to fifteen starts given to various Wade LeBlancs, Vidal Nunos, Mike Montgomerys, Cody Martins, Joe Wielands and Adrian Sampsons. It has also led to the M’s bullpen taking on 447.2 innings. That’s 8th in AL, so not the worst, but the teams ahead of them either have terrible rotations like Baltimore or the Angels, or they are built around great bullpens like the Royals. The Mariners relief staff continues to struggle, though it has changed personnel since April, at least partly through overuse.
The Mariner rotation has a big job to do if the M’s are to keep even their remote hopes alive for the playoffs. 1) They must stay healthy. No more busted fingernails for James Paxton. 2) They have to pitch better. Four or five inning stinkers are not going to cut it. Seems obvious, but since the first game of the White Sox series in Chicago (August 27th) everybody in the current rotation has had at least one of them. Some more than one (yeah Paxton, I’m pointing at you.) Even if Tai Walker is trying to re-make himself, somehow he’ll have to go more than the five he threw against the Rangers Thursday. Finally, there’s no help. Watcha see is watcha got. Somehow these guys have to get it done.
The Cano, Cruz, Seager Train Keeps Rolling
Last night the Mariners scored their 665th run, passing their 2015 total with 21 games left to play. By comparison that number is fifth in the American League, and the most by any Mariner team since 2008 (671), but they probably won’t reach the mark of 794 scored by the 2007 team. That team won 88 games with pitching every bit as questionable as the 2016 team, with a -19 run differential.
One of the reasons for this team’s success is the steady and consistent performance by the guys earning big money in the middle of the lineup. I could post slash lines for Cano, Cruz and Seager, but try this on for size instead. Kyle Seager is 9th in the AL in OPS with .900. Nelson Cruz is 11th with .885. Robinson Cano is 12th with .883. Only Boston can boast as many or more players in the top 20. Geez, I hate those guys.
I could talk endlessly about how these factors fit with career numbers, but the most important thing to think about is that the Mariners could have three guys who finish the year with over 30 home runs, hitting .285 or more and around 100 RBI’s. It’s really only possible to produce those numbers if a player is pretty consistent for the year. While the rest of the team has had some bright moments and hot spots in the season, nobody else has contributed offensively like these three guys have. They’ll need to continue producing while Martin, Lind, Lee, Marte, Gutierrez, Smith and Zunino and the others chip in where they can.
Catch it and Throw it
Nothing has frustrated me more than the defensive problems the M’s have seemed to have this year.From a strictly traditional standpoint, the M’s are smack in the middle of the American League with 78 errors made. But those errors have led to 53 unearned runs, have prolonged innings, and put extra burdens on starters and relievers alike. Only the hapless Twins have allowed more.
And of course, before you can make an error, fielders actually have to get to the ball. ranging stats, measured by Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) or Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) are equally accusing when it comes to Mariner defense. The Mariners rank 11th in DRS, and 13th in UZR, both with big negative numbers.
The point is, it’s tough when a pitching staff is scuffling to stay healthy and get outs,and much harder when fielders are giving away outs and runs. We may remember Leonys Martin’s play at the wall, and Seager’s game saving grab and throw on August 18th to beat the Angels, but the Mariners are a bad defensive team. Getting to balls is why we’re seeing an increasing number of games with Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia in the outfield, sacrificing some offensive prowess for defensive range. Expect to see an oufield makeover in the off-season.
Work the Schedule
Though the M’s remain in the hunt for the Wild Card, and let’s face it both wild card teams are in play with Baltimore and Blue Jays struggling, there are opportunities and obstacles for the Mariners given their schedule. First, they have six games with the Astros, a team ahead of them in the standings. The bad news is their record against Houston is only 5-8, so somehow those two series, at home and on the road, will have to turn the tables a bit. They also have three games at home against the Blue Jays, a team they handled at the Rogers Centre, and again a team ahead of them in the playoff chase.
Their remaining games, 12 of them are all against bad teams: the Twins, Athletics and Angels. But there is also no room for error. It’s not good enough just to win series anymore. With seven series remaining, and maybe six losses to give, there have to be sweeps. The schedule seems to be favorable, but in the end, the M’s will have to execute.
Somehow the Mariners will likely have to get to 88 wins to sneak in the Wild Card back door. It’s not an impossible task, but for the last 21 games, the M’s will have to play their best, most consistent ball of the season.
With the thrashing of Milwaukee, 8-2 on Saturday night, the M’s moved to ten games over .500. They tied their high point of the season they last achieved on May 25th after demolishing Oakland 13-3 at Safeco. Then Minnesota blew into town for Memorial Day weekend, and the hapless Twins swept the Mariners, revealing the weakness of Seattle’s rotation and the consequent overuse of its bullpen.
Let’s just remember where the M’s have been and celebrate where we find ourselves on August 20th.
After the Twins left town, with the M’s lunch spectacularly stuffed in their luggage, the Mariners redeemed themselves in a home and home series against the Padres, taking three of four, including the amazing 16-13 comeback on June 2nd. That they won, masked the fact the team had been clobbered 14-6 the night before by a lousy San Diego team.
Injuries to Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker, the ineffectiveness of Wade Miley and Nate Karns left the team in a tailspin, with a bullpen unable to remain effective while sucking up all the extra innings. On June 23rd, less than a month after the M’s reached their zenith, they hit rock bottom with a ten inning walk-off loss to Detroit, their record stood at 36-37, 11 games off the division lead, in third place. The M’s really hung around the .500 mark until August 1st at 52-52.
In the 17 games since then, the Mariners have gone 13-4. They remain six games off the division lead, but only one game behind in the Wild Card chase. Why the late surge, and do they have enough to maintain that push into the playoffs? Here are some key factors.
The King and his court
It is no secret that the starting rotation has been the Achilles heel for the Mariners this year. Last night’s performance by Hernandez was vintage Felix. Yes, since his return from the DL he has gone deeper into games. But in Saturday’s game Felix allowed one walk in his eight innings of work to go with his eight strikeouts, reversing a disturbing trend which saw an uptick in his BB/9 rate. Hisashi Iwakuma has pitched well since he turned the corner on his season June 28th, and his game steadily improved throughout the summer. It’s the rest of the rotation that is the problem.
Running Wade LeBlanc out every fifth day probably won’t kill a team. It’s the other guys in between LeBlanc and Iwakuma that are the problem. The M’s need a healthy James Paxton and an effective Taijuan Walker. They cannot afford to keep giving out starts to the Cody Martins, Ariel Mirandas and Joe Wielands of the world twice per week.
Statistically, the M’s have regressed since the salad days of May, but not as bad as I would have thought. They are third in the AL in ERA with 3.96, fourth in OBP allowed at .313, third in fewest earned runs allowed with 483, and tied for sixth for most home runs allowed at 156. They are second in the league for most blown saves with 19. I am not shocked.
July 4th, with the Mariners crossing the midway point of the season I wrote they had scored 407 runs, with a chance to score 800 runs for the first time since 2002. To date the M’s sit at 573 runs scored. Though the M’s never led the league in runs scored, today they are sixth in runs scored, third in On-Base-Percentage, and third in slugging. In the hell of June and July, most of the team struggled, the exceptions being the core guys-Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager.
But today, this team seems to have a little gleam of sunshine bouncing off their batting helmets. Nori Aoki, fresh from Tacoma, and with a new two-flap helmet is the Aoki we thought we were getting. Mike Zunino adds new life to the bottom of the batting order. Adam Lind continues to do Adam Lind stuff, struggling to get on base and then when he’s about to fade from vision launching clutch 430 foot bombs. In his last 20 games Shawn O’Malley slashed .279/.333/.459, played all over the place and loved every second of it. Most encouraging, Leonys Martin finally looks healthy, runs likes he’s healthy and his home run last night was his first since July 20th (before that it was June 23rd.) Further, this team has shown against Milwaukee that it can score without home runs.
Is it enough?
Well, maybe. The bottom line is the Mariners have to keep winning. The schedule doesn’t get any easier. The new-look Yankees come into town on Monday, and they’ve played quite well. The M’s have to figure out a way to win against the Astros and Rangers. They currently have losing records (5-8 and 4-8, respectively) against both teams, though the Mariners are statistically somewhat better than either team from Texas. And they need a little bit of help, as the Eastern Division teams beat up on each other. The Orioles look stunningly mortal at the moment. But watch out for the Kansas City Royal sneakin’ up the standings with their seventh straight win.