So if you’re asking “What’s the Mariners’ plan?” as they sit two games out of the wild card with 40 games left, I’ll tell you what it is. It’s to cross their fingers and hope.
You can talk about tinkering and trading all you want, but that’s moot at this point in the year. No needle-mover will be plucked from the waiver wire; no savior will be acquired in late August.
So if you’re asking “What’s the Mariners’ plan?” as they sit one game out of the wild card with 40 games left, I’ll tell you what it is. It’s to cross their fingers and hope.
“Our horses are here,” said Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, conceding there is little a front office can to do shake up its roster at this point in the season. “Now we have to figure out how to saddle them.”
Riding a pixie-dust train hauling walk-offs and comebacks, the M’s have gone an American League-best 21-12 since the All-Star break. Even so, the famed forecasting site fivethirtyeight.com gives them less than a 45 percent chance of reaching the playoffs.
Most Read Sports Stories
- How MLS’ ruling allowing Iron Front flag might be pushing away Sounders fans | Matt Calkins
- The Times' Ten NFL Power Rankings: How high do the Seahawks climb?
- Seahawks mailbag: What's up with Michael Dickson, and what happens now to L.J. Collier? | Analysis
- Sports on TV & radio: Local listings for Seattle games and events
- The Washington-Oregon rivalry is a unique experience — and not just between the lines
This probably is because, for Seattle to end its 14-year postseason drought, it is going to have to hit on a parlay. It needs to win every 50/50 over these final 40.
50/50 No. 1
Which Felix Hernandez will we see?
After a Washington Post column Aug. 3 claimed “King Felix has been dethroned,” Hernandez went 4-0 with a 2.77 ERA over 292/3 innings. Before that, however, it had been 2½ months since he made it past the sixth inning. Questions about his fastball and command have hovered over him all season, yet he has the lowest ERA among Mariners starters and has had a rather regal month.
50/50 No. 2
Will the rest of the starting rotation hold up?
Friday, I suggested to Dipoto that starting pitching was his team’s most pressing need, but he questioned the word “pressing.” He noted James Paxton’s imminent return and the team’s big plans for Taijuan Walker.
The problem is that, despite natural talents, that duo has lacked consistency for most of the year — and that won’t play in the final quarter of the season.
In Paxton’s defense, he was stellar in his past two starts, giving up just one earned run in 161/3 innings. But it’s always tough to tell how a player will perform upon returning from the disabled list (Felix struggled in his first two starts back). Walker, meanwhile, has been maddeningly erratic all year. So which Taijuan should we expect? The one whose 1.44 ERA through April had him looking like a Cy Young candidate, or the one whose past two starts (eight innings, 11 earned runs) earned him a demotion to Tacoma?
50/50 No. 3
Will the right-handers on the right side be able to hit?
I’m talking about Stefen Romero and Franklin Guiterrez here.
Romero was called up to replace Dae-Ho Lee, the first baseman who had been hitting .109 since the All-Star break. And while Romero has shredded minor-league pitching this year (.319, 19 homers, .922 OPS in 96 games for Tacoma), his big-league production has been negligible in nine games. Gutierrez’s bat hasn’t too fruitful either lately. Since July 1, the right fielder, is 13 for 67 (.194) with four RBI. Minor-leaguer Guillermo Heredia is a possible replacement when a southpaw is on the mound, but Dipoto noted Gutierrez’s power and .759 OPS over the course of this season.
“We’re not as worried about him as you are,” he said.
50/50 No. 4
Can the magic continue?
Catcher Mike Zunino has eight home runs in 25 games and a team-high slugging percentage of .690. He batted under .200 in each of the previous two seasons.
Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen hasn’t given up a run in his past eight appearances. He has a 6.35 ERA.
This is a team getting game-winning home runs from Shawn O’Malley while slithering its way out of 15th-inning defeats. Surely this can’t last, right?
In one way, this post-All-Star surge is reminiscent of the beginning of the season, when a slew of Mariners were outplaying the backs of their baseball cards before returning to earth. But with the addition of closer Edwin Diaz, the return of Hernandez and the refinement of Zunino, one could also argue that this team is far more equipped to win than it was during its midseason slump.
“We’re in our window now,” Dipoto said Friday. “There is no five-year plan.”
You can’t ignore that the clock is ticking on stars such as Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, but the good news is the Mariners can still make a postseason run if everything goes right.
“Everything” being the operative word.