Moore: On a 7-game win streak, Mariners just continue to defy odds
From time to time I hear from a fellow curmudgeon on the best side of Puget Sound, the west side, the Kitsap side. A month or so ago, he insisted the Mariners would win 75 games. He’s like me, typically focusing on the Mariners’ flaws, and usually there’s a lot to talk about in that department. But not so much this year.
The West-Side Curmudgeon is right in a way – the Mariners will win 75 games, but here’s what’s different. At their current pace, they’ll win their 75th game in early August and post a 103-59 record for the entire season. I can’t give WSC too hard of a time though because I thought the Mariners would be 81-81 and extend their non-playoff streak to 18 years.
Sometimes being wrong isn’t such a bad thing, nor is being really wrong, and that’s what makes this Mariners’ season more fun than it would normally be. Frequently when teams are this good, we thought there was that kind of potential before the season started. WSC and I low-balled our projections because of a suspect rotation, but we weren’t alone in the pessimistic prognostications. Even those who are true to the blue couldn’t have thought a 54-31 record was possible on July 2. In his wildest dreams, general manager Jerry Dipoto must have hoped for 95 wins and taken 90 wins in his tamer dreams.
At some point over the winter, Dipoto admitted the Mariners were a long way from measuring up to the Astros. Yet here they are, just a half-game behind Houston in the AL West, gaining ground with a seven-game winning streak that coincided with the Astros losing three consecutive games at Tampa Bay.
I asked Dipoto about that offseason comment last Thursday on Danny, Dave and Moore (listen to the interview here), and what stood out to me the most in his response was this: “Sometimes the best team doesn’t win.”
In his own way, he still acknowledges what everyone else thinks too – that the defending World Series champs are still more talented than the Mariners but occasionally the baseball gods throw bones to the slightly inferior teams, and nothing truly explains what’s happening.
I’ll normally roll my eyes when I hear the words “camaraderie” and “chemistry” because I’d argue that it’s pretty easy to have those characteristics when you’re winning. But it appears that those traits are two reasons why the Mariners are baseball’s most odds-defying team right now. They pick each other up. They look out for each other. They play for the team, not for themselves. All of that stuff we talk to our kids about while they sit in the back seat and can’t wait for dad to shut up so they can get home and play Fortnite.
If WSC and I were to keep our Danny Downer thing going, we’d remind you that the Mariners picked a great season to have an above-average team. There are only three super-teams – the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros – in the American League. Since Scott Servais’ team is so close to the Astros, we’re awfully close to saying there are four super-teams.
Point being, the rest of the league is either so-so or terrible. At any level, when above-average teams play terrible teams, they win at a high rate. The Mariners are 33-12 against teams with losing records. But True to the Bluers would tell you that the Mariners are just playing their schedule, and what would WSC be saying if they lost to those losing teams? They’re doing what they should be doing, beating up on those inferior teams.
This Mariners team is making me believe more than I ever have in magic, mojo, pixie dust and intangibles. You can’t rationally explain why the Mariners were 23-17 with Robinson Canó and 31-14 without him. Taking a future Hall of Famer out of your lineup should hurt, but in a strange way, his absence has galvanized the Mariners. The troops have rallied together. This isn’t me writing mumbo-jumbo; Dipoto said it last week.
Instead of thinking about the lift they’ll get from Cano’s return from his PED suspension on Aug. 14, we’re wondering, or at least I am, if they should even welcome him back since they have such a good thing going without him. And he won’t be available in the playoffs anyway.
They shouldn’t be winning with a catcher hitting .188 and Félix Hernández with an ERA over 5. The rotation I was so concerned about? It’s turned into one of the best in the league. I thought they’d need to win a bunch of 6-5 and 7-6 games to have a successful season, but their 1-0 victory over Kansas City on Sunday was their fifth 1-0 victory of the year.
I keep thinking that things will even out with their record in one-run games, but they just keep winning those, improving to 26-11 with their win Sunday. And the run differential is ridiculous. The Astros lead MLB with a +170 run differential; the Mariners are 23 games over .500 with a +22 run differential. None of it makes sense, but in the words of the late great Dave Niehaus, it just continues!
Since we’ve seen it happen for three months, isn’t there a better chance it will keep going like this instead of stopping suddenly with a run of 10 straight losses in one-run games. I’ve maybe mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. If the Mariners make an extended run in the playoffs, won’t all of these hard-fought games help them? They might be one of the best-equipped teams to handle postseason pressure. And every time Edwin Díaz has gotten the ball in a save situation with a one-run lead, the Mariners have won.
This mystifying mojo even extends to the outfield dilemma Servais has every time he fills out his lineup card. Denard Span or Ben Gamel? They’re both left-handed hitters so forget about a conventional platoon. I thought one player would flourish at the expense of the other. But at last check, Gamel’s hitting .300 and Span’s averaging .292 since he joined the Mariners.
The last guy they needed to have on the mound for Turn the Clock Ahead Night on Saturday was Félix. With him, you want to turn the clock back, and that was especially the case after the first four Royals went 4 for 4, including a three-run homer by Mike Moustakas. But even that didn’t matter. The Mariners erased that lead in a hurry and went on to win 6-4.
In the next week, the Mariners host the falling Angels and the mediocre Rockies while the Astros play two games against Texas, the last-place team in the AL West, and four against the White Sox, one of the league’s worst teams. I bring that up because this is part of the fun, scoreboard-watching in early July, recognizing that this is the year when wishful thinking is replaced by realistic possibilities.