BY Steve Rudman 10:14AM 03/28/2014

For the Mariners, April is the telltale month

History says if the Seattle Mariners finish March/April with a losing record, they are pretty much doomed to finish the season with a losing record.

Dustin Ackley has had a strong spring training and needs to carry that into the regular season. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

When the Mariners wound up 2013 spring training with a 22-11 record and a Cactus League-record 58 home runs, hopes ran high among local hardball fans that the positive momentum would sustain into the regular season. It didn’t, of course. The Mariners went 12-17 in April en route to a final mark of 71-91, their sixth season in a decade with 90-plus losses.

The Mariners are finishing another strong spring (17-11-3) in terms of record, but the larger point is that they have not had a winning month of April since 2009, when they went 13-9 and finished with a record of 85-77.

The importance of a quality start in April cannot be emphasized enough, the Mariners serving as nearly perfect example of what happens to teams, especially in the AL West, that get off to sluggish starts.

Since 1994, when baseball sub-divided into three divisions, 41 editions of the Mariners, Angels, Rangers and Athletics have combined for losing records in March/April. Not counted is April 1995, when the season did not launch until the end of that month due to the previous season’s player strike (each of the AL West clubs played only a handful of April games that year), nor is included Houston’s one season (2013) in the division.

Of those 41 losing March/Aprils suffered by the four AL West entries, 30 resulted (73.1 percent), in losing (sub-.500) seasons, meaning that just 11 clubs had a losing record in April, but a winning mark at the end of September.

Since 1994, April has been the most telling month as to how the Mariners are going to perform throughout the season. Consider:

  • 7: Number of times (again, since 1994) the Mariners posted a winning record in March/April.
  • 7: Number of times the Mariners finished with a winning record after having a winning March/April.
  • 10: Number of times the Mariners had a losing March/April.
  • 0: Number of times the Mariners recovered to post a winning record after a losing March/April.

In the AL West, the Angels (5) and Athletics (4) have combined for nine losing March/Aprils, but rebounded to end the season above .500. Oakland had the most remarkable turnaround, going 8-17 in March/April of 2001, but finishing with 102 victories compared to Seattle’s record 116.

The following are the only AL West clubs that started out losing in March/April, then went on to finish with a winning record. Note that of the 11 teams that recovered to end on a positive note, only four wound up in the postseason, and only two went past the American League Division Series.

Year Team April Season Postseason
1999 Angels 10-14 87-75 Failed to make playoffs
2000 Athletics 12-13 91-70 Failed to make playoffs
2001 Angels 11-13 99-63 99 wins, but no playoffs
2001 Athletics 8-17 102-60 Lost to NYY in ALDS
2004 Athletics 11-12 91-71 Failed to make playoffs
2006 Angels 12-13 89-73 Failed to make playoffs
2009 Angels 9-12 97-65 Lost ALCS to NYY 4-2
2009 Rangers 10-11 87-75 Failed to make playoffs
2010 Rangers 11-12 90-72 Lost World Series to SF
2012 Athletics 11-13 94-68 Lost ALDS 3-2 to Detroit
2012 Angels 8-15 81-73 Failed to make playoffs

A winning record in April is no guarantee the Mariners will make the playoffs. In franchise history, the Mariners have produced 10 winning first months. They reached the postseason in only three seasons (1997, 2000, 2001). But a losing record out of the blocks almost guarantees no postseason.

This season, the tattered state of the rotation compromises Seattle’s chance of producing a winning April. No. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma, who finished third in Cy Young voting last year, will start the year on the disabled list and likely won’t return until late April or early May.

Taijuan Walker, a rotation candidate when spring training commenced, reported with a sore shoulder and was shut down for a week, ailing from inflammation of his bursa. He’s throwing again, reportedly pain free, but will remain on the shelf at least until the middle of the month.

Suddenly, Erasmo Ramirez is the No. 2 starter with James Paxton, 3-0, 1.50 ERA last year, at No. 3. That leaves the back end of the rotation to rookie Roenis Elias and probably newcomer Chris Young, signed off the discard heap Thursday.

The Mariners had Randy Wolf ticketed for one of those jobs until he abruptly walked away from the team Tuesday, correctly balking at the team’s request to sign a 45-day clause granting the club the power to release him in that span at a pro-rated portion of his guaranteed salary.

Advance-consent clauses are not unprecedented, but Wolf’s deal called for him to make $1 million guaranteed if he made the roster, which he did, which is why the Mariners absorbed a deserved skewering when Wolf walked.

Not that they lost much. The 37-year-old hasn’t pitched since 2012 when he went 5-10, and hasn’t had more wins than losses in a season since 2011. But his departure left the club in a bind, thus the quick signing of Young.

But the club remains in a bind. According to manager Lloyd McClendon, Ramirez has “yet to learn how to throw quality strikes.” Elias, 25, makes a jump from AA (Jackson), a leap Brandon Maurer couldn’t do last year. Young spent 2013 in the minors rehabbing from a third career shoulder surgery. Behind that trio are Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi, both of whom have proved to be sensationally inadequate.

Iwakuma and Walker will return for the final five months. But it’s always the first month that points to the road the Mariners will take.

 


YourThoughts

  • westsydemariner

    stumblin’, bumblin’, fumblin’. In Howie the clown and Jack ZZZZZs we trust. Maybe next year.

  • Will

    Imagine the fever-pitch in this area IF the Mariners started winning games against the league’s big dogs – and sustained winning games late into the season.

    Unfortunately, the M’s are akin to the Peanuts character, Lucy, who always promises Charlie Brown that, this time, she will hold the football so he can kick it … and, without exception, she always pulls the football away and Charlie goes splat on his backside.

    M’s fans are way too familiar with the “splat”.

  • lee cousins

    Talk about your self doubters, the only time I get serious about Charlie brown , and Lucy is when I’m sitting on the throne.

  • Jamo57

    Actually I appreciate the Mariners taking all of the suspense out of the season early. It saves me a lot of money, time and mental energy on false hopes allowing me to move on to other things.

  • poulsbogary

    Did I see the schedule correct? The M’s play a home game on Saturday at the same time the motocross event is going on across the street? Hmmmm, attendance numbers a barometer of popularity in this town?

  • Effzee

    What happened to the Next Big 3, aside from Walker? Why are we signing scrap heap guys and having unknowns jump up from AA? Could it be that the big three turned out to be the big nothing? Just as it always does?

  • ksmyth

    Steve, you’re absolutely right, but I think it may mean a bit less this year. Yes, the M’s have what can charitably be called a makeshift rotation, but both the A’s and the Rangers also have tons of pitching injuries, and the injury bug has followed Texas on to the starting nine. With three of the teams suffering injury and lots of games played in the division in the first month, there might be more of a glimmer of hope if the M’s can beat up the front runners when they’re down. Not sure if they can pull it off, but the chances seem a little better this year. I might add the Rangers, desperate for pitching depth, signed Scott Baker who flamed out of Mariners spring camp.

  • Jeff Shope

    as in out of the race by april

  • rick penix

    here’s another statistic for you,, Cano will break the walk record and the M’s management will have a Cano day next year for breaking it,,,please ,I’m begging , sell the team

    • RadioGuy

      I like it…I LIKE it! Maybe when they have that day for Cano next year, the team can enlist logistical help from the Sounders in organizing a “March to the Match” of their own (they could call it “The Walk to Oblivion”) in which their remaining fans can get blasted at Pioneer Square bars for pregame numbing purposes and then stumble their way to the ballpark. You know, kind of like they probably do now, but in unison.

      Since they’d be celebrating the breaking of a record, however dubious, people could be invited to bring their old 45′s down to the field, where they’d then…well…be broken. The ensuing riot of folks FINALLY being able to find someone willing to take that old 1910 Fruitgum Co. single off their hands could result in a forfeit, which would be a more humane way to lose a 9-0 game than actually having to sit through it for three-plus hours. This really has potential.

      Gotta go now…the voices in my head are telling me Dan Duquette is calling from Boston and wants to talk about trading me a veteran to fill the closer role and all it’ll cost is a couple of unproven minor leaguers. I feel better already.

  • Long-Time Mariners Fan

    A more detailed analysis of the 2014 schedule points to how critical April might be: The Mariners play 76 games with the other teams in the division (37 home and 39 away.) We play 22 of those 76 games in April (11 home and 11 away) – nearly a third of our intra-division games. The best way to advance or maintain a team”s position in the division standings is to beat those teams in the division.