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Mariners blog

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

June 26, 2007 at 10:12 AM

Start of something?

Great to see fans of opposing teams checking in here. One thing I’ll tell you, “Skip” is that the post button for this blog is annoyingly slow. Hit it once with care. Then be patient. I have to do the same thing every night and just about blew a gasket during last night’s game when the slow software for this blog set me back an hour in my work. Spoke to the higher-ups last night and was told we’re about a week away from having updated software installed that can handle the capacity of a blog like this. So, let’s all be patient. One, two, three, four…
So, the question some of you seem to be pondering today is whether we can read anything into last night’s 9-4 victory by Seattle. Was this the start of something big? Or just another bright moment in what will ultimately become a season of third-place, .500 baseball? I will be honest with you. My pals in the pressbox and I wonder the same thing every time the Mariners surprise us. This isn’t about reproducing talk radio in print. Bouncing up and down like a yo-yo. It’s about trying to get an accurate read on a team that the traditionalists, casual fans and sabermaticians are united in their confusion over. You don’t see that happening very often. For instance, let’s take a look at the “adjusted standings” over at Baseball Prospectus. They are a little difficult to understand, but the interesting stuff is — as you move past the regular won-lost records towards the far right of the column — you see a set of won-lost records dubbed W3 L3, the so-called “third order standings”. Those are standings which, after a bunch of complex numbers crunching, are adjusted to reflect the quality of opponents, hitting and pitching wise, that teams have faced.
As we can see from those, the M’s come off a lot worse than they actually are. The standings show Seattle in third place with a 36-37 record (I’m rounding off). Oakland is in second place at 43-33, while the Angels have only a slight lead at 44-33. To summarize in plain english, the numbers crunching crowd feels the Angels and Mariners both have inflated records based on who they’ve played, while the A’s are better than they’ve looked.
It’s the same as when us less-mathematically-inclined types look at the schedule and go “Gee, the Mariners are struggling, but get to play six in a row against the Pirates and Reds, then face Julian Tavarez and Kason Gabbard instead of Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling! Wow, what a break!”
It has seemed to many of us this year that the M’s have caught a fair deal of breaks like those. They have caught some teams on the downward spiral of their seasons. One reader pointed out the Red Sox being just above .500 the past three weeks and that they are currently not the juggernaut of earlier this year. Continuing that theme, the M’s caught the Oakland A’s during a losing stretch, not when they were holding opponents to two runs or less for a period of three weeks. They caught the Yankees when they were struggling to score runs.
Yes, the M’s have it tough flying to Cleveland for three separate one-game series, then playing a September doubleheader. But will they come out of those games with more wins than they would have had playing four consecutive games in Cleveland during that snowed out series? Let’s not forget, the M’s were one strike away from losing the first game of that series. They are already 1-1 against the Indians in makeup games. I was freezing in Cleveland that April weekend and I can tell you, there weren’t many of us feeling like Seattle would win more than one of the four games there against an Indians squad that was red hot at that point.
In Boston, one local writer seemed to chalk up Seattle’s win last night to the Red Sox suffering from the fatigue of a Mariners-like road trip.
Does some of this even out? Sure. But the impression many of us have been left with is that Seattle is still catching more breaks than have been offset by its grueling schedule and travel requirements.
This isn’t meant to denigrate what the M’s have accomplished. This isn’t rooting for them to lose. This is trying to verbalize what’s been going on in some of our heads as we try to gauge whether or not the M’s are for real.
It’s one reason why the computers at coolstandings.com had been placing Oakland’s playoff odds higher than Seattle’s despite trailing the Mariners in the standings. After last night’s game, the M’s chances finally inched ahead of Oakland’s. That one game last night vaulted Seattle’s chances a little bit higher. How so? They gained some ground on division and wild-card hopefuls and they beat one of the better teams in doing so. A lot of the computer prognosticating and numbers-crunching projections that put Seattle behind the eight-ball have to do with the assumption the M’s will lose games against teams with better-than-.500 records. Even with guys like Tavarez and Gabbard on the mound. The M’s have not yet shown they can consistently beat the winning squads. The more they do just that, the more their odds of doing something special this season increase. But let’s be real. The total odds of them going to the post-season are still listed at nearly 90 per cent against them. A three-game deficit to Cleveland doesn’t seem like much. But it can be huge. For the M’s to even think about being “buyers” in trades come mid-July, that gap cannot be stretched out to five or six. These next two weeks are all about preventing that from happening. Here’s some good news on the Mark Buehrle front if you’re a Seattle fan. But don’t even think that Seattle management would risk getting in on the price of a Buehrle if the gap between the M’s and the wild card leader gets much larger than it is now.
It’s not rocket science. So yes, this was an important win. If anything, it got one of several remaining hurdles out of Seattle’s path. It’s one thing to say that all Seattle has to do to make the playoffs is go .600 the rest of the way. But it’s unrealistic to expect that if the M’s have yet to show they can do it all season. Just as it’s unrealistic to expect a collapse by a team like the Angels when its pitching-depth is so strong. You might have a better argument if you say the Indians lack bullpen depth and may be vulnerable in the second half. But first, the M’s have to prove they are capable of mounting a sustained challenge. Beating the teams they are supposed to, with some surprises added in, goes some way towards proving that theory.
For obvious reasons, then, I have to disagree with those who contend that last night’s contest was just one game out of 162. In fact, I’d argue that this was at least that cliched one game in 42 that separates contenders from pretenders — as “Jim” alluded to in his post. Yes, I have often heard that line about winning 60, losing 60 and how it’s the 42 games in between that make the difference in any season. It’s usually used by the managers of teams on a losing streak to get the media off their backs. Not sure I buy into it totally, but for argument’s sake, let’s say it exists. If so, this was certainly one of those games. And one in 42 in understandably more important than one in 162. That game in Anaheim back in late May was also one of those difference-making one in 42. And it went against the Mariners. I’d give that game far more importance, given that it cost Seattle two of the seven games it now trails by in the division standings. Not sure how anyone can argue otherwise, given the current gap between the M’s and Angels. Seattle gave away a two-game spread that night and has yet to show it can make up even one game of ground in a month. You don’t have to like that games can be season-making in May, but reality says otherwise. And no, not all games are created equally. If Seattle is a dozen games out in the season’s final week and goes on a tear and makes up seven of those to narrow the gap to five, it doesn’t put the same kind of pressure on the Angels as does overtaking a four-game gap in May and taking a three-game lead.
Baseball history is littered with second-half behemoths who won all kinds of meaningless games, padded their record and were non-factors in any type of playoff race. My personal favorite was a GM who used to go around telling everyone that his team had “the best record in baseball” from May 31 of the previous season to May 31 of that current year. We used to joke about handing that GM’s team a “May 31 Trophy” to signify that it had actually done something. The rest of the baseball world remained blissfully unaware.
A team that wins 87 games in a season by padding its September record with 20 wins when it starts the final month double-digits behind the real playoff contenders is not the same as an 85-win team that battles for a playoff spot until the final two weeks of a season, then loses a series of heartstoppers to a division leader.
That first team simply doesn’t play under the same pressure, or apply the same pressure on the teams ahead of it. This whole one out of 162 games stuff is something, frankly, that I’ve always believed to be a bunch of bunk created by players and team management to keep the pressure off. If the Mariners do eventually overtake the Angels, or even apply any type of pressure at all on them come September, I’ll get back to you on that. Until then, though, that two-game night looks like a division backbreaker.
How to make last night’s game even more meaningful?Jump on the Red Sox tonight while the mound matchup favors Seattle. Win the series tonight and go for the sweep against Daisuke Matsuzaka tomorrow. Lose tonight and drop the series, then the importance of last night’s win gets muted. Same thing if the M’s sweep this series and then get swept by a Toronto squad that will have some of its best starters going on the weekend. This isn’t about breaking even any more. That luxury went out the window when Seattle botched a chance to pad its record against National League teams. This is about doing the unexpected. As we mentioned, the M’s playoff odds are still stacked against them. And at this point, any wins, be they against .500 teams or sub-.500 teams, truly do matter. It’s just that beating the better teams tends to lend credence to those who believe the Mariners are capable of defying the odds. Otherwise, such hope is little more than the usual fans putting the usual blind faith in any particular team.

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