After finishing the “first half” of the season at 43-47, the last 72 games will be an uphill climb if the Seattle Mariners are to snap their 16-year playoff drought. Going into the resumption of baseball tonight in Chicago against the White Sox, realistically the Mariners need to go no worse than 45-27 to have any hope at one of the two wild-card slots. Anyone in the division catching the Houston Astros at this point seems absurd. So, the wild card is the only way any other team from the AL west is seeing the postseason.
FanGraphs currently projects the Mariners to have an 11.1% chance of making the playoffs when weighting pre-season expectations with this season’s results. So, fans of the navy and northwest green, shouldn’t hold their breaths. But, if a mini-miracle were to occur, here are some the things that would need to happen.
Play Better on the Road
The Mariners have won 16 and lost 25 on the road so far this season. On the flip side, they are 27-22 within the friendly confines of Safeco Field. Five games over at home. Nine games under in other teams’ ballparks. Losing seasons are often made up of “ifs and buts,” and the adage is true here also. A .500 road Mariners team, coupled with their current home record would’ve resulted in the second-best record in the American League.
The M’s come back from the All-Star game with six straight games on the road, three at the White Sox and three at the division leading Astros. Anything less than .500 over the next week probably indicates it’s not going to get better.
Catch Some Breaks in the Starting Rotation
With the exception of James Paxton and the surprising Ariel Miranda, the Mariners starting rotation has been a huge disappointment. At one point, four of the five projected starters for the M’s were on the DL at the same time.
Felix Hernandez, after being such a horse for the duration of his career, has started to show the wear and tear, spending significant DL time both last season and this season. Felix has pitched just 50.2 innings. It is a little hard to tell if Felix’s ERA is the product of bad luck and a small sample size or continuing decline.
His ERA of 4.44 is accompanied by a FIP of 5.70 but an xFIP of 3.83. Given the high HR rate in MLB this season, xFIP, which uses the pitcher’s own HR% instead of the league average, may be more accurate. Still, his 2.49 BB/9 and extraordinarily high 1.46 WHIP emphasize how much command Felix has lost from the various injuries the past two seasons.
The oft injured, 36-year old Hisashi Iwakuma remains on the DL with shoulder issues. The report has not been updated since June 28th and any time table for his return remains unknown. On the same day Iwakuma’s status was updated, Drew Smiley was officially written off for the season. With recovery from Tommy John ahead, Smiley will probably never even play for the Mariners. His contract expires before he should be ready to pitch again. To characterize the starting pitching as a disaster might be a bit hyperbolic but maybe not far from the truth.
The one unexpected bright spot in the rotation is currently in uncharted waters. Miranda has not pitched more than 58 innings in any of his three previous big league seasons. He’s pitched 104 this season. Similarly, Paxton’s max number of innings in a season was 121 last season. With 81.1 to date, he’ll hit a career high in about six starts, if he stays healthy.
The age, brittleness, and decline of the current staff doesn’t seem all that promising going forward. And, with one of the worst farm teams in baseball, acquiring a top of the rotation starter seems unlikely. (While writing, the Chicago Cubs traded top prospect Eloy Jiminez and three others for Jose Quintana of the White Sox). The window for winning baseball in the Emerald City appears to be closing oh so slowly.
Plain Old Dumb Luck
And then there’s the thing they have no control over. Dumb Luck. In blowout games this season, the M’s are 20-15. When it’s not close, the Mariners do pretty well. They are 10-11 in one run games. That’s actually not bad. Most teams play around .500 in one run games, even if there are some wild outliers from year to year. But the 1-5 record in extra-inning games is killing Seattle. As a non-believer in “clutch,” this record has room to regress to the mean in the second half and even out.
The last component to the “dumb luck” strategy is for some other team that is doing well to stop doing well. The New York Yankees weren’t expected to be this good this quickly, so who knows? Can the Tampa Bay Rays or the Minnesota Twins keep it up? Lots of things can happen. That’s why they play the games.
It’s probably not going to happen for the Seattle Mariners this year, but miracles do happen. Look no further than last year’s Super Bowl or last year’s World Series.