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June 13, 2011 at 6:00 AM

Mariners have chance to gain separation from other AL West teams

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The Los Angeles Angels are in town tonight and if you ask me, this is the team the Mariners should be most worried about this week in regard to the AL West standings.
Sure, if the M’s can narrow their 1 1/2-game deficit with the first-place Texas Rangers, by all means. But the Angels, really, should be this week’s No. 1 target. Don’t know if any of you have paid attention to the other AL West standings this past week, but even in going a pedestrian 3-4 on their road trip, the Mariners somehow manged to build up some big separation with third place Los Angeles and last-place Oakland.
Seattle enters tonight 3 1/2 games up on the Angels and 6 1/2 better than the A’s.
Don’t look now, folks, but it’s also nearly mid-June. We’re a month away from the All-Star Break and when teams truly have to begin making tough decisions about the whole buyer/seller thing at the July 31 trade deadline.
In other words, the M’s already have one foot on the Angels’ windpipe. Take two of three and the breath becomes a bit shorter. Sweep this series, that windpipe could snap.
Seriously, the M’s can do some big-time damage to the Angels right here and now.

The important thing to remember is that there aren’t really 3 1/2 months to go in the season. Well, OK, there are. But for the purposes of this discussion, there are four weeks left for the Angels to get their act together and convince owner Arte Moreno they still have a shot at the post-season in 2011.
Time is running out.
If the Mariners open up a six or seven-game lead on the Angels come the All-Star Break — regardless of whether Seattle is in first or second place — the Angels just might call it a day. Might balk at any further improvements. Might save the old war chest for 2012.
You can almost bet on Billy Beane leaning that way with the A’s right now. Oakland is already eight games out of first place and Beane is no novice. He knows how to crunch numbers and can calculate odds. If this gap remains a month from now, there won’t be any mid-season playoff push by the A’s.
They will head into “seller” mode and regroup for next year.
Why is this so important for the M’s?
Because it’s easier to make the playoffs when you have just one team to worry about instead of two or three.
Every year, I laugh at those franchises that tell their fans “Hey, we’re only four games out of the wild-card on Sept. 1” when they happen to be surrounded by seven other teams with just about the same gap to make up. Bottom line: it’s harder to outlast opponents in groups. Much easier when it’s just one that you have to overcome. Yes, there are teams that buck the odds every once in a while, but not as often as you’d think despite some recent happenings. And besides, with all of the odds these Mariners are already defying, do you really want them tempting any more fate?
And those odds will become significantly smaller for Seattle if the third and fourth-place teams in the AL West pack it in by July 31. Get to the All-Star Break with enough separation from the Angels and A’s and the M’s can start worrying only about the Rangers.
This isn’t overconfidence in Seattle’s ability. They face some formidable pitching from the Angels and — later on in the week — the Phillies.
No, this is sheer numbers logic. The Angels are reeling at present and Oakland is on the cusp of being too far back to matter any more.
Take down the Angels in this series and the road ahead gets a bit easier. A series win puts the M’s 4 1/2 games up on Los Angeles. A sweep gets you 6 1/2. Have the opposite happen — meaning, get swept three in a row at home — and the Mariners pretty much guarantee they’ll be neck-and-neck with the Angels a month from now.
Take care of business these next few days, against the kind of team the M’s love (one that doesn’t score very often) and Seattle just might save itself a whole bunch of headaches down the road.



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