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

October 2, 2012 at 8:53 AM

Perfect storm of improbabilities led to toughest schedule Mariners may have ever had in any month

ADDITIONAL NOTE: If you missed my final Talkin’ Baseball segment of the 2012 regular season on Sports Radio KJR, here it is. We’ll do one more wrap-up segment next week.
Something crossed my mind this morning that I just had to look up. It dawned on me while sipping my first cup of coffee that it’s felt like quite a long time since the Mariners won their 67th game of the season to match last year’s win total. I remember it being against the Boston Red Sox because I covered that series and actually got ahead of myself that night by tweeting that it was their 68th win of the year.
“Better not get ahead of yourself,” I chastised myself internally.
Yes, indeed. Better not because I could see what lay ahead on the schedule. Still, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that this Setpember/October thing would turn out so bad.
So, looking it up this morning, I see that the 67th win by the Mariners came four weeks ago tomorrow. That means, in the last four weeks, the Mariners have managed to win just six games.
Now, four weeks isn’t exactly a month, but, if you look back throughout Mariners history, six-win months have been the domain of truly terrible teams. Last year’s team went 6-20 in July because of that 17-game losing streak. The 101-loss team from 2010 went 6-22 in July and fired manager Don Wakamatsu a week later because it had to get off the road first and then that’s how long it took to organize his replacement.
This Mariners team is not as bad as those other two. In fact, this 2012 edition went 15-11 in July and 15-13 in August.
But if you look back over the last four weeks (minus one day) since the 67th victory of the season, the Mariners have compiled a record of 6-16. If they happen to lose tonight and tomorrow, the Mariners would be looking at a 6-18 finish to their schedule that is pretty darned close to last year’s month of July and would rate as one of the worst month-long stretches of baseball in their entire history.
To me, that’s shocking, because this team is nowhere near that bad. And really, it just shows you how darned tough the September schedule has been. I’m not one to make excuses for the club, but this has to rate as one of the toughest schedules they have ever had to endure over a month-long stretch.
In some ways, it was mitigated by the stretch of games played against horrible teams over about a six-week stretch beginning with a struggling Royals squad (which has since righted the pitching problems that plagued its rotation and played .500 ball) right after the break and ending with those Red Sox. But really, it was in late July and through most of August that the Mariners had it on easy street, playing so many consecutive games and series against collapsing squads.
Yeah, they got to play Boston and Toronto this month, but those games merely served as a breather between series against good clubs. And once Boston was done nearly four weeks ago, things just got brutal.
The Mariners have played tough for the most part. But over the past week or so, a few more of the blowout type games began occuring. I think the Mariners are just about at the point where they are ready to call it a day and stop getting hammered every night by desperate squads.
Fortunately, they’ve caught a break these final two games.

That’s because they will finally get to play an Angels team tonight with zero to play for. And that makes a huge difference.
The Angels were eliminated from playoff contention last night despite the fact they could still have a 90-win season. And I’ll tell you what, the Mariners made some of that possible by twice beating Jered Weaver since early August and by taking one game in Anaheim last week that really drove a dagger into this Angels team.
So, the Mariners can settle for that satisfaction. There were tons of games blown by the Angels this year, but those three Mariners wins loom as a huge difference-maker for them right now because it twice involved an ace pitcher and once involved a must-win bid at a sweep.
But for the last four weeks, the Mariners have faced team after team in desperate need of a win. You just don’t see that happen very often in baseball. In fact, until last night’s clinch by the Tigers, not a single AL division had been decided.
Some years, the Mariners get to play division winners who are running out the scrubs with two weeks still to go and get to pad their September record. Not this time.
This time, the A’s kept on winning, which kept the pressure on every team in the AL West not wearing Mariners uniforms to keep on winning. And then the Orioles kept on winning in the AL East because the Yankees kept on winning, which made Seattle’s games against Baltimore a brutal affair.
It would have been almost funny had Texas won last night and then again tonight, keeping the heat on the Angels to beat the Mariners every single night here. Could have happened. But finally, the streak of improbabilities conspiring against Seattle has ended. Now, maybe they can go out on a winning note since I doubt the Angels come at them as fiercely as before.
Remember this the next time somebody tells you a win in September is the same as a win in April. They all count the same, sure. But they are much tougher to get in September when the stakes are high. Some contending teams fold under September pressure. But this time, they all used their desperation to thrive — at Seattle’s expense. And no matter how well Seattle played, those other teams were just hungrier and won because they had to.
September baseball is a different animal when something’s up-for-grabs. It isn’t April.
Ultimately, this will merely serve to deliver the Mariners the record they probably deserve for their season. I wrote 2 1/2 weeks ago, before the Mariners took the field to start a series in Texas, that they were a 75-win team, regardless of whether they finished at 78 wins or 73.
Some folks laughed at the time, asking what I’d do if they won 80 games. I’d be happy for them, I said, because finishing even close to .500 with the schedule as it was laid out was going to be enormously difficult.
And that hasn’t changed. The Mariners will now win anywhere from 73-75 games. But we can call them a 75-win team.
That’s what many of us thought they could win to start the year and it’s appropriate that it will end that way. What would have been difficult, mostly for the team, was if they had used their record padding against awful teams in July and August to forge something like an 83-win season.
It would not have been good enough to win anything like a wild-card, but would have gotten fan hopes up just a little too high based on the caliber of squad this is. And that can be a dangerous thing because then, if the team goes out and plays to its true talent level next year, things can backfire in an ugly way.
Even worse, had this team won 83 games, it would have been horrendous for the fanbase because then, there would be little pressure on the Mariners to change anything. The baseball fans I’ve met in Seattle are so longing for something positive that they tend to get very excited whenever the Mariners win a few games in a row. Playing .500 ball based largely on an inflated schedule likely would have resulted in a celebration the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Mariners threw a third-place parade on the field after the 2009 season ended.
We all know what happened after that.
So, yeah, it’s actually good news that this “correction” happened to the Mariners. Call it reggression to the mean, or whatever, but going 23-4 against sub-.500 teams in the second half had grown this Mariners bubble just a little too big.
Now, against winning teams, the Mariners are 14-32 in the second half.
And that’s been enough to burst the bubble. Yeah, it’s overly harsh, but the prior games were just a little too easy.
It’s all evened out now and we can see the team’s shortcomings.
The Mariners don’t just need “a bat”. They need multiple.
They could use another starting pitcher as well. Start with that and then next year, maybe we won’t need to study the schedule so much to figure out what this team is. Maybe it will be able to play much more steady baseball all year round against varying types of opponents and we’ll know what they are fairly early on instead of guessing about it with a month to go.
Maybe then, things can be interesting for fans all year long instead of just for a week or two in mid-August.
Regardless, the ball’s now in the Mariners’ court. Tough as they’ve played for most of the month, a brutal schedule has exposed them for the 75-win team they are. Now, they have to take pro-active steps to get better, rather than sitting back and waiting for it to happen at some undetermined point — or hoping to catch lightning in a bottle like the A’s and Orioles.
If they don’t? Well, then, we’ll just be having this same discussion a year from now.



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