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

August 13, 2007 at 10:52 AM

Turning it up a notch

Great to be back on a sunny, much cooler than I’m used to, Monday with the Mariners in the thick of two playoff races. Raul Ibanez just got named AL Player of the Week, hitting .481 with five homers and 11 RBI. Glad to see him regain his stroke while I was away, at a time when his playing time stood to be diminished. The true pros step up when they have to. He had to.
I’ll get right to the point of today’s discussion, since the Mariners did what they had to do on the past road trip by going 5-1 against a pair of non-contenders. Unfortunately, for them, they gained precious little ground in the standings. But that’s what tends to happen this time of year. Doesn’t make what the M’s just did any less important. In fact, what the M’s just did was crucial to their survival.
We mentioned this several weeks back, but it does get tougher and tougher to make up ground as a season progresses into August and September. Contending teams really do tend to turn their game up a notch — with some exceptions, as with last year’s St. Louis Cardinals — as they head towards the finish line. In the case of the Cardinals, they had their division all but wrapped up in July of last year before sleepwalking the rest of the way and nearly blowing it on the season’s final weekend. But teams that are in a real race, that have a pace team to catch or stay ahead of, do tend to win games like the M’s just did this past week.
The New York Yankees are 23-8 (.742) in the second-half, having played .500 ball before that.
Seattle is 16-14, playing .533 ball since the break. The Angels are also below their first-half pace of .602, down to .571. But that’s still a high enough winning percentage that they are not going to give away games by the bucketload in a short period of time.
So, what can the M’s look forward to? If recent AL history is any indicator, more of the same. A race where they could pick up a game or two every few weeks, but not where they make up a half-dozen in a short span as happened back in June and July with the Angels.
I’ve learned over the years never to count the Yankees out of the playoffs. This season, I failed to follow my own advice and pronounced their chances all but dead a month or so ago. Boy was I wrong! Let’s see how the Yanks have fared down the stretch the past few seasons, going with their post-All-Star Game records and winning percentages versus their pre-All-Star winning percentages (in brackets):
2006 — 47-29 .618 (.581)
2005 — 49-27 .645 (.535)
2004 — 46-30 .605 (.640)
2003 — 44-25 .638 (.613)
2002 — 48-26 .649 (.632)
2001 — 43-31 .581 (.605)
There you go. In all the playoff years after the Yankees won their last World Series, they have had a superior second half in four of six seasons. And even the two seasons in which they “slowed down” in the second-half, they still played at a .581 winning percentage or better.
Should this season’s second-half be a shock? I guess not. And in case some of you hadn’t noticed, they are not just beating the “bad” teams any more.
Let’s look at other recent playoff squads. How about the Oakland A’s?
2006 — 48-26 .649 (.511)
2003 — 42-27 .609 (.581)
2002 — 53-21 .716 (.568)
2001 — 58-17 .773 (.506)
2000 — 43-32 .573 (.558)
Not much to say there. They’ve turned things up a notch in the second half to earn their playoff spots.
2006 — 49-27 .645 (.547)
2004 — 45-30 .600 (.540)
2003 — 46-23 .667 (.473)
2002 — 44-28 .611 (.562)
They tended to turn it up a notch, too.
2005 — 43-31 .581 (.591)
2004 — 45-30 .600 (.540)
2002 — 48-28 .632 (.593)
OK, so their last playoff appearance saw them “slow down” to just a .581 second-half percentage. That’s still darned high.
2005 — 46-29 .613 (.563)
2004 — 50-26 .658 (.558)
2003 — 40-29 .580 (.591)
OK, so again, one year of second-half “slippage” to a .580 winning percentage.
How about some real obvious second-half stinkers? Well, there are the Detroit Tigers from last year and the Chicago White Sox from 2005. Both went to the World Series, the Chisox winning it.
Detroit had a .670 winning percentage in the first half, only .486 in the second, losing the division. Chicago had a .663 winning percentage in the first-half, only .553 in the second.
What did both of those teams have in common? Like the Cards from last year, they built up huge first-half leads and threatened to run away with their divisions by July. Just a hunch, but I’d say staying motivated, as we’re seeing with the Red Sox this season, might have been an issue. Another issue would be the pressure not to blow such a big lead. The M’s are not facing opponents in that class during this year’s division or wild card races. Yes, the Angels have let 4 1/2 games slip off their AL West lead over Seattle, but they’re hardly in the spot that Boston now sits. They did not have a double-digit lead by June.
Bottom line? The M’s will likely have to keep winning at a very high clip just to gain minimal ground from here on in. The good news? They’ve separated themselves from certain playoff “pretenders” and have less to worry about. But as we saw this past weekend, nothing’s going to come easy in the standings.



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