ESPN’s Kurkjian: What Mariners need to do to win AL West

Sep 20, 2023, 3:23 PM | Updated: 3:38 pm

Seattle Mariners...

The Seattle Mariners celebrate after a win against the Oakland A's on Sept. 19, 2023. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

(Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners are in the final stretch run of the 2023 regular season, and a playoff berth is well within their grasp.

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After wrapping up a three-game sweep of the Oakland A’s with a 6-3 win Wednesday, the Mariners are 84-68 and tied for second place in the American League West at 0.5 games back of the Houston Astros.

In the wild card race, the Mariners are tied with the Texas Rangers for the third and final spot, but Texas owns the tiebreaker. The Toronto Blue Jays, meanwhile, enter their Wednesday evening game with the New York Yankees night a half game up on Seattle and Texas, and with a loss there would be a three-way tie between those teams, with the Blue Jays the odd team out of the trio due to tiebreakers.

The Mariners now have just 10 games left this season after an off day on Thursday, all against Texas and Houston.

MLB Standings: Division | Wild card

Where will the Mariners finish this season? ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk Wednesday morning to discuss the American League playoff race.

“I’m gonna say it’s a wild card,” Kurkjian said of the Mariners. “I’m gonna say that even though the Astros have stumbled here lately … I still think the Astros are going to win the division. Now listen, in this division, absolutely nothing would surprise me, because I’ve been wrong so many times along the way. But I’m gonna say that the Blue Jays and the Mariners make the playoffs as wild card teams – I’m not sure in which order – and I think whoever finishes second is going to play the Rays. And I think the Astros are somehow going to win the division.”

What makes the Mariners’ home stretch especially interesting is that Seattle goes to Texas for three games starting this Friday before returning home next week for three against Houston, then wrapping up the season with four against the Rangers. Every remaining game for the M’s will be a battle between teams in the hunt for the division title.

“How great is this, fellas? That the last 10 games for the Mariners are all against the Rangers and the Astros, and seven of them against the Rangers. This is why the extra wild card really works,” Kurkjian said ” … How great is it going to be for a Mariners fan to watch those last 10 games when the entire season is riding on it, not just for the Mariners, but for the Astros and the Rangers?”

“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this with a division race this close and three teams in it, and they’re all basically playing each other the final 10 days of the season. It’s magnificent,” he later added.

For a long time, it seemed improbable for the Mariners or Astros to win the AL West as the Rangers jumped out to a hot start and had a big lead over both teams. But Texas has really struggled in the second half, opening the door for the M’s and Astros in the division. And as noted, Kurkjian thinks the Rangers will be the odd team out of the wild card race behind Seattle and Toronto.

So what happened in Texas?

“Until yesterday, they’d lost four in a row and 20 out of 30. The biggest thing that’s happened is their pitching has gone south,” Kurkjian said. “Max Scherzer, who they were counting on, is not going to pitch again – I don’t think even in the postseason. Of course, Jacob deGrom went down early, Nathan Eovaldi got hurt. You just can’t win when three starting pitchers are out like that. And the back end of their bullpen hasn’t been very good either. So they tried to smash their way through it for a month because they can really hit, but eventually you have to pitch better, and they really struggled.”

Kurkjian thinks the Rangers are still “a very dangerous team” if they make the playoffs because of their lineup, but said the Mariners’ pitching is what will help them over Texas.

“They have three to four quality starting pitchers, they have the lowest walk rate in the American League. That’s what I think the difference between the two teams is: Seattle’s pitching,” he said.

How can M’s win the West?

With 10 games remaining, how can the Mariners win the American League West?

“They’re probably going to have to go 8-2 to win the division because I just can’t see the Astros with their full complement of offense just staggering down the stretch. I just can’t see it,” Kurkjian said. “I think they’re gonna have to win eight out of those 10 games if they’re gonna win the division, because I fully expect the Astros to play well, and I expect the Rangers to play well, too. So that’s where the Mariners are really up against it here. Not only that they’re gonna have to play well, but gonna have to play really well against two teams that are very good.”

Listen to the full conversation with Kurkjian at this link or in the player near the top of this story.

More on the Seattle Mariners

Kurkjian: Why Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez, J.P. Crawford will get MVP votes
Drayer: Seattle Mariners find payoff in not trying to do too much
Salk: Who do Mariners need to step up during intense final stretch?
• Mariners’ J.P. Crawford homers, celebrates by petting dog
• Which big bats could Seattle Mariners get this winter? Watch for trades, says Morosi

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ESPN’s Kurkjian: What Mariners need to do to win AL West