The odds still strongly favor the M’s ending their 16-year playoff drought, despite those loud hoof beats of the rampaging A’s gaining (both confidence and ground) from the rear.
Here’s the safest prediction of the month: the Mariners will make a move to strengthen their team before the July 31 MLB trade deadline. Maybe more than one.
When I asked general manager Jerry Dipoto on Thursday about how aggressively the ballclub is approaching the deadline, you could practically hear him snicker.
“As long as you’ve dealt with me, if I told you we were looking to be passive you’d probably laugh,” he said. “We’re an aggressive group. We’re always thinking of ways we can address team needs.”
But — and these two premises go hand in hand — you know what’s suddenly not appearing so safe? The Mariners’ path to a playoff spot that not that long ago seemed to be a fait accompli. Now the dialogue has subtly shifted from, “Can Seattle catch Houston?” to “Can the Mariners hold off Oakland?”
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Mind you, the odds still strongly favor the M’s ending their 16-year playoff drought, despite those loud hoof beats of the rampaging A’s gaining (both confidence and ground) from the rear.
Even after Seattle had dropped its second series in a row in Anaheim with a loss Thursday while the A’s were finishing off a series in which they took three of four from Houston, giving them 19 wins in their past 24 games, FanGraphs still calculated the Mariners’ percentage to make the playoffs at 75.7. The A’s were at 21.2 percent.
But considering that the A’s had cut Seattle’s wild-card lead from 11 games on June 15 to five entering Saturday, well, it’s valid for Mariners fans to be a little nervous. The A’s are a talented young team that is rapidly gaining confidence, and the Mariners can attest to the power of momentum. It was a similar stretch in which the Mariners’ went 22-6 from May 18 to June 16 that propelled them into their comfortable playoff position that’s not quite as cushy anymore.
The parallels between Seattle and Oakland are interesting. Both have dynamic All-Star closers — Edwin Diaz (36 saves, 79 strikeouts in 48 innings) for the Mariners and Blake Treinen (23 saves, 0.98 ERA) for the A’s. Both feel their defense and positive clubhouse chemistry are big factors in their success.
Dipoto reminded me that he warned of the A’s before the season started. He likes their mix of rising stars (Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Stephen Piscotty, starter Sean Manaea) and steady veterans (Jed Lowrie, Khris Davis, Marcus Semien). The X-factor, he believes, is the emergence of setup man Lou Trivino, who has been spectacular. The A’s also have a talent for bashing home runs and for making opposing pitchers work for everything.
“They’re a better team than people give them credit for,’’ Dipoto said. “I don’t expect them to go away.”
Nor do I. While the Angels have mostly evaporated as a wild-card rival, the A’s have replaced them with a vengeance. And Oakland, which lost numerous starting pitchers to injury in the first half, has the potential to be even more formidable once those arms return to form. Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill already have made it back.
Furthermore, A’s baseball operations guru Billy Beane went on record this week that the A’s plan to be buyers, not sellers, at the deadline. And when it comes to be being aggressive and creative once he smells a playoff possibility, Beane has a proven track record … in the years he’s not frustrating A’s fans by dumping stars to build for the future. This is a “go for it” year that Beane made clear, in an interview in The Athletic, he plans to embrace.
So the Mariners must counter what they have to assume will be a strong push by Oakland. The A’s have proved their mettle during this hot stretch by not only handling Houston, but winning two series against Cleveland. The Mariners, meanwhile, have lost their past two series and lost two starters, Felix Hernandez and James Paxton, to the disabled list because of back injuries.
Neither appears serious, but Dipoto said his focus as he assesses possible stretch-drive additions is bolstering the team’s pitching depth – “pen or rotation, wherever we can get the most impact and uniqueness.”
Dipoto is also open to augmenting the offense, he said, even with the return of suspended Robinson Cano in mid-August. The Mariners hope to mount a double-barreled offensive down the stretch, one in which they battle the Astros ahead of them while holding off the A’s behind them.
If the Mariners, who are on a 100-win pace, falter this year and don’t make the playoffs, it would be one of the greatest heartaches in team history. Dipoto said they are focused on neither the Astros nor the A’s, but rather maximizing their own strengths while attacking their weaknesses.
“One of the great benefits of having played so well in the first half is we can put our head down and focus on that,’ he said. “If we do that, and do it right, we have a really good shot here.”