Mariners more likely to win 100 games than 80, even if it’s hard to grasp why

Jun 4, 2018, 11:09 AM

Mitch Haniger's walk-off homer made the Mariners 6-0 in extra-inning games. (AP)...

Mitch Haniger's walk-off homer made the Mariners 6-0 in extra-inning games. (AP)


Which numbers do you like the most with the Mariners?

• 6-0 in extra-inning games;
• 17 comeback wins;
• 18-9 in one-run games;
• Four straight wins, 13 of their last 16 and on a pace for 102;
• Or how about the plain old won-loss record that shows them at 37-22?

The most amazing part? The Mariners are in first place in the AL West with a one-game lead over the World Series champion Astros.

The first-place Mariners didn’t come out of nowhere

I thought the Mariners would go 81-81 this year, but they’d have to go 44-59 the rest of the way to finish at .500 now. That doesn’t seem likely, not with this team anymore. They’re more apt to win 100 games than 80 even if it’s hard to understand why this is happening.

If the Mariners were going to be a playoff team this year, I figured they would squeeze in as the second wild card team, but now they’re a division leader that is not that far from having the best record in the league, just 2 1/2 games behind the 37-17 Yankees.

Nothing stops them. It’s almost like they’ve reached the point of “Robbie who?” When Robinson Canó’s 80-game suspension was announced May 14, I pictured the Mariners in October, looking back at their season and saying if they’d had him the whole year, things would have been different. As it is, if the Mariners miss him, it’s not apparent. Could you say they’re better without him? Sounds crazy but record-wise, that’s the case.

And after Canó’s suspension, they lost Dee Gordon for 10 days because of a broken big toe and Jean Segura for two days while he was being cleared from concussion tests. You’d think that losing your leadoff and No. 2 hitters, each batting over .300, would hurt the Mariners, but nope, they just kept rolling along.

If you want to be the wet-blanket guy – and I’m usually the drenched-blanket guy – you could say the Mariners have benefited from the weakest part of their schedule and have played 16 of their last 19 games at home. Dry-blanket guy would say you can only play the games that are on the schedule, and if the Mariners had not done well during this stretch, pessimists would have been saying: “Can you believe they lost those series to the Twins and the Rays?”

The Twins might not appear to be that good in the standings, but the Mariners beat three of their best starters, and they also defeated Chris Archer and Blake Snell of the Rays over the weekend.

Wet-blanket guy hangs out with Same Old Mariners guy, and they’re probably at Henry’s across the street from Safeco Field, drinking and thinking the Mariners will show who they really are in the next two weeks when they have two games against the Astros, three against the Yankees and seven against the Red Sox. So far against the Astros and Angels, the Mariners lost both series and are 2-5 vs. their division rivals.

We’ll soon find out if they were merely fattening up against so-so teams or truly playoff contenders. I’d say there are more reasons to think they’re legit, mainly because of a dramatically improved rotation and bullpen. They had a bona fide ace already in James Paxton and have added two more lefties whose impact I’d rate as anywhere between surprising and shocking. Marco Gonzales suddenly looks like a No. 2 starter after allowing only one earned run total in his last four starts, and Wade LeBlanc has gone from a little-used long reliever to a starter with a 1.72 ERA.

Two weeks ago I said Mike Leake was terrible. Add that to the long list of things I’ve been wrong about – Leake has given up four earned runs in his last three starts. Then for anyone who thought Félix Hernández was done or close to it, the King threw eight innings of one-run ball at the Rays on Sunday.

The bullpen got a big lift with the acquisition of Alex Colomé from the Rays, a right-hander who gives manager Scott Servais another high-velocity option, and Roenis Elias is a left-handed upgrade over Mark Rzepczynski, who was released last Friday. I’m also encouraged by recent outings from unfairly maligned Juan Nicasio, who has struck out 14 of the last 19 batters he’s faced.

So they go to Houston with most of the national analysts no doubt expecting the Astros to reclaim first place with a two-game sweep. But I like the Mariners’ chances Tuesday night with James Paxton facing Houston’s least-effective starter in Dallas Keuchel. And Lance McCullers will be tough Wednesday night – he allowed just one earned run the last time he faced the Mariners – but don’t discount the possibility that Wade LeBlanc could win that pitcher’s duel.

If you gave me five shots of tequila and asked me what I really think, I’d first ask for 100 percent agave, and then I’d say we’ll see the Mariners’ flaws against the better teams. They’ll drop back to a 90-win pace and battle the Angels in September for the second wild-card spot.

But the way they’re going now, I’d rather ditch the tequila and hope the magic, mojo and inexplicable keep happening.

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Mariners more likely to win 100 games than 80, even if it’s hard to grasp why