Moore: Door still open for Mariners in playoff chase, but are they good enough to make it happen?
I can’t remember when I gave up on them, maybe it was after the Dodgers’ series when they were outscored by a million runs or after the Astros’ series when Marco Gonzales threw batting practice in his return to the rotation.
The best thing about giving up on the Mariners is that right when you think they’re dead, they show signs of life, and sure enough, it happened again in Phoenix over the weekend as Scott Servais’ team took two of three from the Diamondbacks.
Problem is, while they were winning two out of three, the A’s won three in a row at Minnesota, extending their wild-card lead to five games. With 31 games remaining, can the Mariners rally from five games back? It’s certainly possible, and we’ll find out how possible in the next nine days. Over that stretch, the Mariners have two games against the Padres, four against the A’s and three against the Orioles.
The first part of this scenario in which the Mariners earn the second wild-card spot is this – they need to sweep the Padres and Orioles. No splitting the two-gamer with San Diego or winning two of three from Baltimore. The Padres are the worst team in the National League at 50-83. The Orioles have MLB’s worst record at 37-94.
Meanwhile, the A’s have three games in Houston, followed by seven games in Oakland, four against the Mariners and three against the Yankees. By the end of this stretch next Wednesday, the Mariners need to be within two or three games to have a chance in the last three weeks of the year.
Question is, are they good enough to make it happen? And for that matter, is Oakland vulnerable enough to allow it to happen? One good sign: Oakland’s ace, Sean Manaea was placed on the 10-day disabled list Sunday with shoulder soreness. So he won’t pitch in the four-game series against the Mariners that starts Thursday, and it coincides with great news for the Mariners – James Paxton is expected to return from a two-week absence after his forearm was drilled by a line drive.
Probably because my glass is usually half-empty or maybe because I look at the Mariners’ rotation and lineup, I can’t see the playoff drought ending this year. Unless you’re thinking with your heart, don’t you agree? If they were five games ahead of the A’s instead of five games behind, I’d still have concerns about them hanging on.
Right now, Erasmo Ramírez is their best starter, but how long will that continue? With Félix Hernández, we’ve seen the body of work this season. He’s not going to suddenly turn into King Félix again. Wade LeBlanc and Mike Leake are below average to above average depending on the day – point is, they’re shutdown starters on occasion and otherwise allowing four or five runs a game. Paxton’s return is encouraging, but it would be unfair to think he’ll be his dominating self right away. Plus there are too many holes in the lineup, and the bullpen – outside of Alex Colomé and Edwin Díaz – has question marks.
If the Mariners fall short, how do you evaluate their season? I feel like I’m talking about a sub-.500 team when I’m trying to analyze their strengths and weaknesses, but their 74-57 shows they’re much better than that. Only thing is, since early July when they were 56-32, they’re 18-25 – it’s been almost two months since the Mariners looked like a contending team.
In run differential, the Astros are plus-214, the A’s are plus-92, and the Mariners are minus-42, 19th in MLB. They recorded so many one-run wins in the first half of the season, but it’s caught up to them. This team isn’t as good as we thought they were, and the heck of it is, they’re not as bad as they’ve been over the past two months.
They’re somewhere in the middle and, unfortunately, that’s not going to cut it this year. It will be the first time in franchise history when an 88- or 90-win season will be considered disappointing.