Mariners Vying for First Playoff Spot in Over a Decade
The Indians just can’t seem to get their act together. This up and down season has had more peaks and valleys than the Titanic on its way across the Atlantic Ocean. The only thing missing from this fateful endeavor is the sad depressing ending that has Chris Antonetti struggling to share a makeshift raft with Terry Francona while the rest of the Tribe sinks to the bottom of the sea.
Fun times this 2014 season has been. Fun times, indeed.
The Indians continued their slow and agonizingly painful decent this past weekend against the suddenly unbeatable Kansas City Royals. After dropping three of four games, the Indians head back home losers in six of their last ten games and trailing the Tigers by a seemingly insurmountable 6.5 games.
Of course, there’s still the wild card spot that’s still available to about two-thirds of the American League. Unfortunately, securing the second of two possible wild card births secures the unfortunate winner a one game playoff with the Angels, or as you might know them, the second best team in all of baseball. Win that one game and you get the privilege of squaring off against the A’s, the best team in all of baseball.
Make no mistake about it. If an American League Wild Card team other than the Angels wins the World Series this season, they’ll have earned it. Coincidentally, that’s the exact opportunity the Seattle Mariners are looking to take advantage of. After not making the playoffs since the 2001 season, the Mariners are in prime position to end one of the longest playoff droughts in baseball.
Seattle comes into play tonight with a record of 54-51 and sitting firmly in third place in the AL West. More importantly, the Mariners are only two games back of Toronto in the AL Wild Card standings and look to be in prime position to earn that elusive playoff spot. A recent rough patch, a 3-7 record in their last ten games, has threatened to derail what has been a successful season to date.
This was the plan the Mariners had all along for the 2014 season. They invested heavily this offseason on improving their roster in a win now counter move. I have to emphasize the idea that this was in fact a counter move. After several seasons of investing heavily in their minor league system with can’t miss prospects that inevitably missed, the M’s went for broke this season. Sufficed to say, the results have been better than what many expected.
Leading the charger for the Mariners offensively has been Robinson Cano. The $200 million dollar man hasn’t exactly been blasting home runs with the same regularity we saw in New York. Safeco Field can have that effect. What we have seen, though, is the same type of reliable offensive production we have grown to appreciate out of Cano. A slash line of .328/.389/.454 is far from out of the ordinary for the all-star second baseman.
Helping lead the charge offensively has been third baseman Kyle Seager. Seager has shown flashes of breaking out in the past, but 2014 has been the year for the former North Carolina Tar Heel. He’s hitting .279/.346/.484 with a team leading 16 homers and 67 RBI and can stake claim to a spot in the argument as to who is the best third baseman in the league.
Also lending a hand is second year catcher Mike Zunino. The heavy hitting catcher has belted 15 homers and really come into his own over the past month and a half of the season. James Jones, a speedy young center fielder, has ascended to the top of the order and has become one of the best base stealing threats in all of baseball. Even Dustin Ackley has shown glimpses of being a legitimate every day player at the big league level.
Of course, what article about the Mariners would be incomplete without talking about the king, Felix Hernandez. We can argue for days over who is the best pitcher in all of baseball, but for my money my choice is Hernandez. He is consistently among the league leaders in every major pitching category and 2014 has been no different – 11 wins, a 1.99 ERA, and 1.73 strikeouts all rank among the best in baseball. The Indians will have the unfortunate task of facing Hernandez Wednesday night.
In addition to Hernandez, the M’s also sport a supporting cast consisting of a young up and comer in Roenis Elias, a Japanese import in Hisashi Iwakuma, top prospect Taijuan Walker, and reclamation project Chris Young. It’s quite the cast of characters and to their credit, the Mariners have made it work – 2nd in ERA, 1st in WHIP, 1st in batting average against. But again, Safeco Field is a great place to pitch. That’s an aspect of this that can’t be overlooked or forgotten when discussing the Seattle Mariners.
Closing things out for the Mariners is the American League Saves leader, Fernando Rodney. After two successful seasons in Tampa that saw him save a combined 85 games, Rodney has found a new home in Seattle. He has been dominant on his way to picking up 28 saves and he’s done it with so much grace and dignity. Who am I kidding? I love his shtick with shooting imaginary arrows every time he closes out a game. It makes things fun.
Can the Indians get their groove back against the Mariners? It’s going to be interesting to find out. The M’s are a team that the Tribe typically plays well against. But, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, this isn’t your typical Mariners team. This is a team that looks like it could be on the verge of doing something special. At least the Indians have the benefit of playing the next three games at home where they show a noticeable improvement over playing on the road.
Hisashi Iwakuma ( 8-5, 3.09 ERA/2.97 SIERA) vs. Trevor Bauer (4-5, 3.93/3.79)
Felix Hernandez (11-2, 1.99/2.39) vs. Corey Kluber (10-6, 2.77/2.79)
Chris Young (9-6, 3.04/5.18) vs. Zach McAllister (3-6, 5.65/4.25)