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

August 23, 2012 at 11:44 AM

What do Mariners playoff odds really look like? Like something to worry about after road trip

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ADDITIONAL NOTE: I will be hosting another hour-long special on the Mariners tonight at 7 p.m. PT on Sports Radio KJR. Should be fun!
Plenty of talk out there about the Mariners and their wild-card chances. I won’t discount them outright because, as Jim Carrey once said in Dumb and Dumber, “So, you’re telling me, there’s a chance.”
Yes, and right now the Mariners still do have a chance. According to coolstandings it’s a 2.9 per cent shot at the second wild card spot.
For some of you who like to base everything off of 1995 and the M’s miracle comeback that season, I’ll try to put it all in perspective.
Back in 1995, the season ended on Oct. 2. This year, it will end Oct. 3, so it’s about the same timeline we’re dealing with.
And during that 1995 season, the Mariners actually faced better odds on Sept. 1 of that year (3.2 percent) than the Mariners do right now — with an entire additional week of season to go. Back then, the Mariners trailed the Angels by 6 1/2 games in the division race, which is close to the 7 games out Seattle currently sits in the wild-card. The Mariners actually trail Oakland by 8 games in the loss column — which is all that matters when calculating playoff races — compared to the 6 games out in the loss column that they were behind California in 1995.
The other difference being: back then, the M’s only had one team to catch instead of four, which is what makes this year’s task so daunting.
And that’s why I’ll suggest again, wait until after this road trip to see whether the Mariners can close the gap a bit heading into September.
Back on Aug. 5, after the Mariners had swept Toronto for a seventh win in a row, they lost two of three in New York and were 8 games back in the wild-card race (9 in the loss column) with playoff odds of 2.9 percent. So, despite having gone 11-5 since then (a .688 winning percentage) they have gained just one game and actually lost ground in their playoff odds.
So, yeah. A bit of a grim picture.
That’s why I wrote a few days ago that the only way the Mariners will close the gap is to keep on winning at a well above average rate. At the time, I said winning 13 of 15 might do it. The Mariners can accomplish that by going 5-2 on this trip to Chicago and Minnesota. Indeed, they’d do themselves a big favor by going 6-1. A 7-0 run is too much to expect, but if you want to make up a few games, that’s also a way to do it. It’s pretty tough to go on a 15-game winning streak and not gain any ground.
But that’s about the size of it. So, enjoy the ride. But as far as wild-card chances, the time to look at it with any degree of even faint optimism will be after the trip and once Sept. 1 is about to roll around.
Now, that doesn’t mean we all can’t dream.
Photo Credit: AP


The comparisons I’m seeing to 1995 don’t really hold much water for me. That 1995 team was already a .500 ballclub for much of the season and had many names already recognized as being potential stars. Those Mariners had arguably underachieved because of an injury to Ken Griffey Jr., not because they were a bunch of nobodies expected to do nothing. They were already good with potential to be great.
These Mariners aren’t there yet. Even with a few weeks of feasting on the worst teams in the AL, the M’s are still three games under .500. If they go 5-2 on the trip, they will finally be a .500 team again. But they really haven’t been one all season, unlike that 1995 crew headed up by a core of up-and-coming superstars.
Can this Mariners team eventually put out similar superstars? That’s the great thing about baseball. We never know.
This Mariners team reminds me more of the 1993 Montreal Expos, a club I followed as a fan while working as a news reporter in Montreal back then. The Expos were still a legit .500 team back then and a better club then than the Mariners are now, but the odds they faced in getting to the post-season were just as astronomical as Seattle’s current squad and worse than the 1995 M’s.
I saw Jim Fregosi at Safeco Field this week employed at his job as a special assistant for the Braves. Back in 1993, Fregosi managed the World Series finalist Phillies, a team that pretty much ran away with the NL East that entire year.
The Expos messed around for most of the season and never really threatened to contend for anything. Most fans, like myself, were downright ticked at the ballclub because they’d actually contended for real in 1992 with a young core that was now looking to be OK but not playoff-worthy.
On Aug. 20 of that year, the Expos were 14 1/2 games out and had playoff odds of just 0.1 percent.
They were 64-59 at the time. They would suddenly go offf on a sustained winning run and finish at 94-68 — meaning they went 30-9 the rest of the way, playing .769 ball the final month-plus.
On Sept. 17, with two weeks to go, they’d narrowed the gap down to 5 games and had the Phillies in town for one last series. Sweep it and the Expos would be two out and anything could happen.
My friends and I bought tickets to the Friday and Sunday games. I had to work on the Saturday night and couldn’t go.
Montreal was down 7-3 in the opener, but rallied to tie it against closer Mitch Williams and won 8-7 on a walkoff sac fly. The place went nuts, as only the real Montreal baseball crowds could in those days. The gap was down to 4.
The one game Montreal would lose that series was the Saturday game. All day long, TV cameras staked out the home of Denis Boucher, a local product who would actually start that game for the Expos. They tracked his every move that day, following his car to the ballpark. That’s how alive the city was. Boucher, unfortunately, looked overwhelmed by nerves that game (who could blame him under those circumstances?) and got roughed up early. But again, the Expos came back and were down 5-4 in the ninth with the tying run at third and only one out. All-Star second baseman Mike Lansing was up and if there was anyone you could count on to put a ball in play and get the runner home it was him.
But he struck out. The rally ended soon after.
To this day, I’ll insist to anyone that had Lansing hit a flyball, the Expos would have completed the greatest comeback in baseball history a couple of weeks later. A win would have narrowed the gap to just two games and Philadelphia would have been alive and pressuring its team about the 1964 collapse even more than it had been already.
But it was done right there.
The Expos came back to beat Williams and the Phillies on a come-from-behind Wil Cordero walkoff hit in the Sunday game. I was in the stands as well. Fregosi later told me it was the loudest he’d ever heard a stadium erupt.
We all believed back then. But with a four-game gap instead of two games and fewer than two weeks to go, we all knew in our minds it was pretty much over even if our hearts said otherwise.
The next night, the Expos were destroyed at home by Atlanta and the season was done. The magic was over.
The aftermath of that series?
Williams was never the same. He’d wind up blowing the World Series to Toronto on a walk-off homer by Joe Carter in Game 6 later that year.
As for the Expos, they’d go 74-40 the next year, fielding an all-star at just about every position on the diamond. Pedro Martinez was their fourth starter and Rondell White their fourth outfielder. That’s how good they were. They were six games up on the Braves when the strike hit that August and would have snapped Atlanta’s eventual record playoff-making streak before it ever got started.
Thing is, no one ever really knew beforehand how many stars that team had, unlike, say, the Mariners in 1995 where there were several names we all knew would be or had already become household stuff. Just like this year’s Mariners, we didn’t really didn’t recognize having too many superstars with the Expos (outside of Larry Walker) at the start of 1994, though that finish in 1993 should have been an inkling. Think about it. Over a 153-game stretch, those Expos teams went 104-49 from the end of 1993 through to the strike in 1994.
But just prior to that, they were barely a .500 team. They had players we knew were good, but who later turned out to be great.
And though Fregosi will never admit it to me, I’ll insist until my final days that if Lansing gets that run across in the middle game in September, the Expos in 1993 would have caught the Phillies and overcome a 14 1/2 game deficit with six weeks to go.
So, yes, trust me, I know all about dreaming as a fan. Know all about impossible odds and that once in a blue moon they can happen. I know that what looks like a .500 team today can turn into tomorrow’s superstars. I’ve lived it as a fan, just like you.
In other words, no one is telling you to give up on the Mariners or to stop dreaming. Unlike the Expos, there is always next year for the Mariners. And even if they don’t catch the wild card spot this season — which they almost surely won’t — how they play the final month could very well be a precursor of something more.
Or, it could just show us that these were a few great weeks against really bad teams and little else.
The good news is, we have another 5 1/2 weeks to get more of a clue about that.
Enjoy the ride.

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