There are exactly six weeks left in this season. Not counting playoffs.
After making Toronto our bitch, sweeping them away, and effectively leap-frogging them for the second wild card spot, we had a 3-game series in Detroit to pretty much do the same thing. Well, it wasn’t a sweep, but taking 2 of 3 gave us sole possession of the second wild card and a pretty sweet tie-breaker over the Tigers, should it come to that.
I don’t want to get into the whole tie-breaker thing right now, because it’s WAY too stupid and convoluted to get into this early in the morning. I will just say that it’s always better to have more tie-breakers than less.
The Mariners went 5-1 in the last week. They went 5-1 the week before, so go ahead and do that math. This team is ROLLING right now, and for once it’s not JUST because the pitching is great. The Mariners have scored 4 or more runs in 9 of their last 12 games, going 9-0 in those 9 games. The Mariners’ run differential has exploded to +99, which is second in the Major Leagues to Oakland’s +161.
Something else to keep an eye on: Oakland has been in a bit of a free-fall and is now tied with Anaheim for the division. Indeed, Anaheim is percentage points higher right now. But, the great thing is, the Mariners are only 5.5 games back. Oakland and Anaheim play one another in 7 of their next 10 games (and 10 times overall in the final six weeks). One of two things should happen in those ten games: either one team dominates the other and takes a commanding lead, or they both bash each other’s brains in – playing .500 ball – and watch as the Mariners soar back into contention for the division title.
Of course, the Mariners play Oakland six times going forward, and Anaheim seven times. Those will be important games, but at this point they’re ALL important games. They’re just as important as the games against Texas (7 times) and Houston (6 times), who are terrible and should provide us some walk-over wins.
Something else to note: the Mariners have four off-days in August, including the last three Thursdays, starting last week. With Roenis Elias coming back to start tonight’s game, that puts us back to a 5-man rotation, with everyone getting a lot of rest over the next two weeks. However, starting on the 29th, the Mariners will play 13 games in a row, followed by a day off on September 11th, followed by 17 more games in a row to close out the season. Yes, you read that right, not only are we playing a ton of games against our division in September (plus four in Toronto), but we also play 30 games in 31 days. Truly, if we end up in the playoffs, we will have EARNED it.
In what has become my favorite exercise – looking ahead to the rest of the Felix starts – I see that he is still on target to play in both Oakland series, the Toronto series, and both Anaheim series (including the final game of the season, if necessary). I imagine if we’ve locked up the playoff spot, we’d push Felix’s last start back to either the play-in game, or the first game of the ALDS, depending on if we make the wild card or win the division. I’m tingling.
There’s a lot to like about the team as it’s presently constructed. One thing of a little concern is Mike Zunino’s games played. He’s played in 99 of 123 games, which is right at 80%. Maybe that’s an appropriate amount for an all star catcher in his prime, but remember this is REALLY Zunino’s first full season. He only played in 53 games in 2013 (much of that year was lost to injury), so this is quite the leap forward for the young stud. It seems like this team has gone to great lengths to temper the innings of Roenis Elias, but they don’t appear to be paying much attention to the workload on Zunino’s plate.
And, believe me, I get it. The Mariners aren’t making the playoffs on the back of Jesus Sucre. Mike Zunino isn’t the world beater he will soon become, but his occasional fits of rage at the plate – mashing homers of enormous loft and velocity – are just what this team needs. Nevertheless, he’s struggling particularly mightily in the month of August. I know it’s only been half-a-month’s worth of games, but his monthly OPS has never been below .620 and right now, his August OPS is .571. Indeed, aside from a 10-day hot streak in June, Zunino’s numbers have steadily been trending downward since April.
It’ll be something to monitor going forward: how they choose to rest Zunino. He’s been averaging about 5 rest days per month (not counting the days off this team normally gets due to the schedule), and already he’s had 4 days off in August. I can’t imagine it would hurt him too much to possibly give him this Wednesday’s day-game off, with Thursday also being an off-day.
This week, we go to Philly and Boston. A few years ago, this road trip would have ravaged us; but this year, Philly and Boston are among the worst teams in baseball. And the Mariners are NOT among the worst teams in baseball. Funny how that works out sometimes.