I know you’ve probably seen it in other stories or heard about it this morning already, but it’s worth mentioning over and over again – if the season ended today, the Mariners would play the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the wild-card game.
Under ordinary circumstances, this would be great news for a franchise that has been to the playoffs only four times in 40 years. But this qualifies as outstanding news because it’s astonishing that the Mariners are in this position given the injuries they’ve had to overcome, leaving them with a rotation that might not be successful with the Tacoma Rainiers.
We’ve seen them compensate with offense, outfield defense and solid relief from the bullpen. Logically, they can’t sustain this 16-9 pace, the best record in the American League since the All-Star break. But sometimes things that make no sense keep happening. And with the Mariners, it’s happening during a season when both wild-card spots are wide open.
The Mariners have a one-game lead over Tampa Bay and Kansas City; a 1 ½-game lead over Minnesota; a two-game lead over the Angels, who arrive for the start of a four-game series Thursday night at Safeco Field; and a 2 ½-game lead over the Orioles, who play a three-game series here next week.
All of these teams are flawed, including the Yankees, who are just 2 ½ games ahead of the Mariners for the top wild-card spot at 60-52. This might be the year that 83 or 84 wins gets you into the playoffs.
Typically when you find out that Felix Hernandez will be out for three to four weeks with shoulder bursitis, you’d think, well, that’s it, they’ll never make it without The King. But the way he’s been pitching, it might be cold to say, but it’s no great loss – or let’s just say the loss is not as big as it would have been a few years ago. The difference between this year’s Felix and his replacement, Marco Gonzales, is not a Grand Canyon-sized gap like it would have been in the past.
Then on the same day, you learn that David Phelps is out for two weeks with an elbow impingement, and you wonder how that will impact the bullpen. In the last two games without him, the Mariners’ bullpen has allowed no runs.
The Mariners have had so many injuries all year long that it’s not a case of next man up as much as it’s next MEN up. I thought interceptions come in bunches but apparently injuries do too. Yet the Mariners keep rolling along.
Even if they were completely healthy, I thought August would do them in with 20 of 27 games on the road. Wrong again. They went 6-3 on their last trip and have won 11 of their last 15 games on the road.
I’m interested to see how the Mariners plan to get it done with Erasmo Ramirez, Yovanni Gallardo, Ariel Miranda and Gonzales taking up four of the five spots in the rotation. At least every fifth day they’ll have James Paxton on the mound, almost assuring a certain victory now – Big Maple goes for his eighth consecutive win Thursday night against the Angels.
But the other guys? Manager Scott Servais has gone from hoping to get six innings from his four other starters to praying for five and relying on middle relievers Emilio Pagan and Casey Lawrence to be a bridge to the later-inning mainstays in the bullpen.
It’s a formula that has worked thus far, but will it continue? I have doubts, especially if you keep getting just five innings from four starters; it’s bound to wear out the bullpen from pitching too frequently.
Besides that, if, say, Gallardo gives up six runs in his five innings, you’ve got a lot of ground to make up. But you would tell me that the Mariners have been coming from behind a lot to win this season and have enough firepower in their lineup to keep doing it. I’d tell you you’re right about that.
And they added Yonder Alonso last weekend, giving them the left-handed part of the first-base platoon that Daniel Vogelbach was supposed to be with Danny Valencia. Looks great on paper, but I’d argue that Valencia was good enough against right-handers, hitting .258 with eight homers and 33 runs batted in.
Though he’s off to a 1-for-9 start with the Mariners, I’m guessing Alonso will be gangbusters down the stretch simply because I don’t really like the acquisition. I would have left well enough alone with Valencia. I’m concerned that his sporadic playing time will negatively impact his production at the plate.
We’ll see if the Mariners can continue to be the second-biggest odds-defying team in franchise history next to the 1995 team. I would say there’s no way that a pitching staff that is on a pace to give up 247 home runs could possibly be in the playoffs. But you could counter by saying the Mariners play just 15 of their last 47 games against teams with winning records. I’d tell you that that doesn’t matter – the Mariners were swept in a two-game series by the Phillies, MLB’s worst team.
It’s more fun to tell logic to take a hike for the next month and a half. Maybe this will be such an improbable season that we’ll talk about 2017 the same way we talk about 1995 someday.
The Go 2 Guy also writes for SeattlePI.com and KitsapSun.com. You can reach Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo.