Do you know what the Mariners’ record is this year when they score three runs or fewer? It’s 4-38. Better hope their offense stays hot.
Rarely has 59-56 felt so dominant. Rarely has a .513 winning percentage felt so much like .813.
Beleaguered by injuries all season, the Mariners just flipped a potentially treacherous road trip into a triumphant one, winning six of their nine games and earning sole possession of the final AL wild-card spot.
It wasn’t a position many forecast at the All-Star break, when Seattle was four games under .500. It wasn’t a station many predicted after the M’s lost three of four at home to the Yankees last month, perpetuating the idea that mediocrity was their ceiling.
And yet, here they are — not only surviving, but thriving. So can they sustain this success?
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Yes. On one condition: Their bats continue to abuse those poor little baseballs.
Most managers and GMs preach pitching as the key to winning. Well, the Mariners aren’t going to win that way. They have one reliable starter in James Paxton, then a rotation full of hurlers that make fans wince on every pitch.
In fact, Seattle’s starters have the fourth-worst ERA in the American League this season, and now they’ll be without Felix Hernandez for the next three to four weeks. Basically, there’s the Canadian and a bunch of dudes that are “eh.”
Fortunately, the Mariners’ offense has been so potent lately that they’ve been able to mask their lack of depth on the hill. Their 546 runs on the season are the fourth-most in the AL, and they’ve averaged 5.5 runs over their past 10 games.
It’s been an impressive little stretch, no doubt. But if the M’s are going to end their 16-year playoff drought, production like that is going to be essential.
Do you know what the Mariners’ record is this year when they score three runs or fewer? It’s 4-38.
That’s astonishing for a team rising in the wild-card chase.
More than that, though — the Mariners have lost 31 of their last 32 games when scoring three runs or fewer. So if there is a true pitcher’s duel, Seattle catches the bullet pretty much every time.
It’s hard to think the starting pitching is going to get much better, either. Trade-happy as GM Jerry Dipoto has been since he arrived two years ago, he wasn’t able to secure an impact starter before the trade deadline.
Marco Gonzalez? He’s got a career ERA of 6.04 and has given up 10 earned runs in his 71/3 innings for the Mariners and Cardinals. Erasmo Ramirez? He had a 4.80 ERA in Tampa this season and has allowed seven earned runs in 81/3 innings in Seattle.
Before the second half of the season began, Dipoto said that the M’s didn’t have enough pitching to make the postseason, and that they would have to make some additions. And given that reliever and late-July acquisition David Phelps is also on the disabled list, it’s hard to imagine Jerry feels that much more confident now.
Still … there is hope. There’s hope that Nelson Cruz — who hit two home runs Wednesday and leads the AL in RBI — can continue defying Father Time. There’s hope that Kyle Seager — the M’s WAR leader among position players — can keep up this second-half surge, during which he’s hit seven home runs in 25 games.
There’s hope that Jean Segura rediscovers the form that had him atop the AL batting leaders before the All-Star break. There’s hope that when Mitch Haniger returns, he morphs back into the offensive terror that tore up MLB in April and May. And, of course, there’s hope that the recently-acquired Yonder Alonso — who has hit 22 home runs on the season — maintains the pace that earned him his first All-Star nod.
You have to think this is what Dipoto is hitching his hopes to, as well. You have to think that when he made the deal for Alonso, it was because he knew the only way his team was going to end this playoff drought was by banging in runs.
So this is what you have now. You have a team that, in boxing terms, has to earn most of its wins by knockout. You have a club that, much to sportswriters’ chagrin, is going to have to make every game as long as possible by adding insurance run after insurance run.
This isn’t to say the M’s are completely dysfunctional on the mound — their bullpen has the fourth-best ERA in the AL. But the relievers are much more likely to preserve an 8-6 lead than they are a 3-2 lead.
So that’s the blueprint for these next 47 games. It’s not complicated, really.
The Mariners’ opponents are going to destroy a lot of baseballs. Seattle hitters just need to destroy more.