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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

June 4, 2007 at 7:22 AM

Wild card fever

And a wonderful Monday morning to all of you. Somebody commenting on the previous post suggested that readers were getting under my skin. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love writing this blog and interacting with all of you. If I didn’t, there would be no way to keep up the pace this thing requires. It’s guys like “Lance” who helped get the debates on this blog going back when nobody except my girlfriend and mother were reading it. My dad back in Montreal can’t figure out how to work a computer, so I couldn’t even count on him.
Now, we keep setting monthly records for hit counts at the paper. The hits were up by 23 per cent in May. And that was after our April numbers set a record for sports blogs at the Times. And I honestly think that the comments below help draw more readers in. There are several days when the blog traffic outdoes the game story and notebook traffic on our website, which tells me plenty. Number one, it tells me folks want to go beyond the score, which we try to do here. So, when I go on and on about Miguel Batista, it isn’t to show “Lance” up. It’s to stress that win totals for starters really aren’t all that telling. But yes, I will agree with ‘Lance” that the Mariners are at least lucky to have those six wins out of Batista, given how his other numbers look so very ordinary.
Just glanced at the wild-card standings, something I almost never do before the all-star break, and was a tad surprised by what I saw. It seems the Mariners — yes, Seattle’s very own M’s — are all alone in second place in the wild card standings, 2 1/2 games behind Detroit. Now, this isn’t as big a deal as it would be in, say, August. But keep in mind that if the Mariners are to contend for a playoff spot, having no teams between them and the leaders could be the single most important aspect.
Fans often make the mistake of assuming their team is contending for the wild card if less than five games separates them from the leader. Problem is, when there are three or four other clubs in the way, the odds of successfully making up the ground go down dramatically. They’d be better off being six games behind a division leader with a head-to-head series or two still to play in such situations.
Right now, if the Mariners sweep the Orioles and the Tigers get swept by the Texas Rangers (I know, I know, I also had to take a breath and stop laughing after writing that last bit) then Seattle will be the wild card leader. But if the M’s had four other teams ahead of them, the odds of all four clubs losing three in a row would be on the astronomical side. Chances are, one of those other clubs would replace Detroit as the leader.
But, the M’s are a legit second at present. Part of the reason is that Seattle has been winning two of every three for the past two weeks since heading off to Tampa Bay. The Tigers have had a recent set of series against their division rivals, the Cleveland Indians, so they have dropped some ground. But now, the Tigers get to do what the M’s spent the weekend doing — feast on the Rangers. The Mariners face a bigger test against the Baltimore Orioles, who played the Angels very tough in Anaheim despite losing three of four. Seattle’s odds of winning the series will increase if it comes down to a battle of late-inning relievers. The O’s have had trouble closing out games in recent weeks.
The other reason Seattle is so close in the wild-card, despite being only three games above .500, is the increased over-all “parity” or “mediocrity” or whatever you want to call it, in the AL. Look no further than the AL East to figure out why. The Boston Red Sox are the only team with a winning record in baseball’s Cadillac division while everyone else stumbles around. You can blame a lack of pitching in the division for that one. Perhaps we truly are seeing a shift in the balance of power. I’ve believed for a while that the AL Central had become the best division in baseball. But it’s also now possible that the AL East has become the worst division of the three in the AL. If that’s the case — and you can argue that the AL West’s superior pitching does make it the better division of the two — then teams previously dismissed outright as wild-card candidates have to be reconsidered. Hello, Mariners.
Now, before we all get too excited, a few things have to happen. The first is that we have to see how things play out once the divisions start to play each other more often. But so far at least, the top AL West teams have fared very well against the AL East and held their own against the AL Central. Again, this is all very early and wild-card talk before the all-star break can be a wasted exercise. My friends at coolstandings.com still like Seattle’s chances in the AL West better than in the wild-card, likely because of the quality of opponent the M’s have built their winning record off of. But with the Angels still 5 1/2 games up on the M’s in the AL West, it’s nice to know that not everything Seattle did this weekend was a waste of time. Let’s see whether it continues against Baltimore, a much tougher test than the Rangers.

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