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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

April 7, 2010 at 3:08 PM

How many wins will it take the Mariners to get to postseason?

That’s an unanswerable question, of course. But we can at least look back and get a picture of what it has taken to win the AL West in past years, and how many victories it has taken to earn the American League’s wild-card berth.

Here’s a look back at every full season since the wild card was instituted in 1994, and the current three-division format began. I threw out 1994, of course, because the season was halted in August by the strike. And I threw out 1995, because the season started late after the strike was settled, and teams played just 144 games. Mariner fans, don’t worry. You don’t have to throw out 1995. It still counts.

So that left 14 full seasons, starting with 1996. The wild card came out of the AL East in 10 of those years, with the Red Sox getting it seven of the 10. The AL West had a flurry of three straight wild-card berths from 2000 to 2002, but hasn’t won it since. The other wild card was won by the Tigers in 2006. The lowest number of victories for the AL wild card has been 88 by the Orioles, way back in 1996. But since 2001, when the A’s earned the wild card with 102 victories (that’s the year the Mariners won 116), the wild-card winner has had at least 94 victories. With the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays all looking like powerful teams again, I’d expect that figure to hold this year.

Last year, I remember writing early in the season — as did many others — that the AL West could possibly be won in the low 90s or even high 80s because the Angels, after winning 100 the year before, had big issues. Nick Adenhart died a year ago tomorrow, obviously a major emotional blow. John Lackey and Ervin Santana were on the disabled list to start the year, Torii Hunter and Vlad Guerrero got hurt, etc. Sure enough, they didn’t win 100 again. But the Angels still managed to win 97 games to take their third straight division title. Right now, I’m still skeptical over speculation about lower victory totals for the AL West title this year. I still think a powerhouse could emerge.

Here’s what it’s taken to win the AL West each year, starting in 2009 and moving back chronologically to 1996: 97, 100, 94, 93, 95, 92, 96, 103, 116, 91, 95, 88, 90, 90.

Every year since 2001 has required at least 92 victories. Each year is its own entity, of course, but I’ll predict it’s going to take in the low to mid-90s again this year to win the AL West.

Here’s a chart that shows the AL West winner, the wild-card winner, and the division winner with the fewest victories each season since 1996, the first full season with a three-division format. I included the latter category just to show that it is, on occasion, possible to slip into the playoffs with a barely .500 season:

2009

AL West winner: Angels 97

AL wild card: Red Sox 95

Fewest wins for division champ: Twins 87

2008

AL West winner: Angels 100

AL wild card: Red Sox 95

Fewest wins for division champ: Dodgers 84

2007

AL West winner: Angels 94

AL wild card: Yankees 94

Fewest wins for division champ: Cubs 85

2006

AL West winner: A’s 93

AL wild card: Tigers 95

Fewest wins for division champ: Cardinals 83

2005

AL West winner: Angels 95

AL wild card: Red Sox 95

Fewest wins for division champ: Padres 82

2004

AL West winner: Angels 92

AL wild card: Red Sox 98

Fewest wins for division champ: Angels, Twins 92

2003

AL West winner: A’s 96

AL wild card: Red Sox 95

Fewest wins for division champ: Cubs 88

2002

AL West winner: A’s 103

AL wild card: Angels 99

Fewest wins for division champ: Twins 94

2001

AL West winner: Mariners 116

AL wild card: A’s 102

Fewest wins for division champ: Braves 88

2000

AL West winner: A’s 91

AL wild card: Mariners 91

Fewest wins for division champ: Yankees 87

1999

AL West winner: Rangers 95

AL wild card: Red Sox 94

Fewest wins for division champ: Rangers 95

1998

AL West winner: Rangers 88

AL wild card: Red Sox 92

Fewest wins for division champ: 88

1997

AL West winner: Mariners 90

AL wild card: Yankees 96

Fewest wins for division champ: Astros 84

1996

AL West winner: Rangers 90

AL wild card: Orioles 88

Fewest wins for division champ: Cardinals 88

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