After being tortured by the Oakland Athletics in their own division for more than a decade, the Mariners can take a big step toward the postseason this weekend.
Even with payrolls far below those of Seattle’s, the Oakland Athletics have spent more than a decade embarrassing the Mariners with smarter front-office management, more effective player acquisitions and better teams. Since 2003, the last year Seattle had a playoff opportunity, the low-rent A’s have won four division titles to none for the Mariners, and finished ahead of Seattle in the standings 10 times in 11 years.
Finally, the Mariners can deliver a punch to the snout of the pesky A’s. This weekend, the Mariners engage the Athletics in a three-game series at Safeco Field that will go a long way toward deciding American League wild card slots.
Although Seattle is coming off a put-a-paper bag-over-your-head series loss to the Houston Astros, they will face an Oakland club in the grip of an enormous choke. Since winning five of six heading into Aug. 9, when they held a four-game lead over the Angels in the division race, the Athletics are 9-21. In their past eight, the A’s have suffered seven one-run losses.
Since moving to Oakland, the only other time the A’s endured such an nasty eight-game span was in May 1969, when they followed a seven-game winning streak by losing seven of eight, including six one-run losses.
The A’s are paying a steep price for gutting their offense – they dealt their best hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, a Mariners slayer – in order to secure playoff pitching. Now Oakland is scrambling to ward off Seattle and Detroit.
With a weekend sweep, the Mariners (79-66) would move past the A’s (81-64), who still hold – barely — the AL’s first wild card position (Detroit has a half-game lead on Seattle). They need to recover quickly from an embarrassing performance against Houston, which ended with the Mariners scratching out seven hits in 2-1 and 5-2 losses.
With those defeats, the Mariners fell below .500 at home with a 37-38 record. The Mariners have six home dates remaining, the three vs. Oakland and three to end the season against the Angels.
Since the adoption of the wild card round in 1995, no team has reached the postseason with a losing record at home. Following are the wild card teams that had the worst home marks with Seattle shown for comparison purposes:
|2014||Mariners||AL West||37||38||.493||To be determined|
|1996||Orioles||AL East||43||38||.531||Lost ALCS to NYY 4-1|
|2011||Cardinals||NL Central||45||36||.556||Won WS over Tex 4-3|
|2006||Tigers||AL Central||46||35||.568||Lost WS to StL 4-1|
|1996||Dodgers||NL Central||47||34||.580||Lost NLDS to Atl 3-0|
|2000||Mariners||AL West||47||34||.580||Lost ALCS to NYY 4-2|
|2011||Rays||AL East||47||34||.580||Lost ALDS to Tex 3-1|
|2012||Orioles||AL East||47||34||.580||Lost ALDS to NYY 3-2|
The Mariners won nine of 16 games from the A’s this season, but also lost three times at Safeco Field. The series has been so close that Seattle holds only a one-run advantage over the 16, 52-51.
Rue the record
If the Mariners whiff their chance to reach the postseason, they can point to their season-long inability to win close games, especially contests decided by one run. Entering the Oakland series, the Mariners are 16-25 (.390) in one-run games, the worst percentage in the American League. The Mariners have also been blanked 16 times, the second-worst total in the AL behind Tampa Bay’s 17.
The Mariners will also rue their inexplicable record against teams with sub.-500 records, particularly the two also-rans in their own division, the Astros and Texas Rangers. The Mariners dropped 10 of 19 against Texas, last in the AL West, and have lost seven of the 16 so far (three remaining) against Houston, which will finish next-to-last.
While Seattle is 42-28 against clubs with winning records, including 14-14 head-to-head against division leaders, it is 37-38 against the losers, including 17-19 against clubs currently in last place.
So the Mariners have risen to the occasion, but also sank to it, especially within their own division, where they are 7-5 against the first-place Angels and 9-7 against second-place Oakland, but have a combined 17 losses to the Astros and Rangers. With 17 games remaining, here’s the Mariners record against opponents:
|Baltimore||AL East||2-5||Tampa Bay||AL East||4-3|
|N.Y. Yankees||AL East||3-3||Boston||AL East||5-1|
|Toronto||AL East||3-0||Chicago||AL Central||4-3|
|Kansas City||AL Central||5-2||Minnesota||AL Central||2-5|
|Detroit||AL Central||4-2||Houston||AL West||9-7|
|Cleveland||AL Central||4-2||Texas||AL West||9-10|
|LA Angels||AL West||7-5||N.Y. Mets||NL East||1-2|
|Oakland||AL West||9-7||Philadelphia||NL East||1-2|
|Washington||NL East||1-2||San Diego||NL West||2-2|
Rarity still possble
Hisashi Iwakuma did not pitch well Wednesday night against the Astros, allowing four earned runs in 4.1 innings with a pair of uncharacteristic walks. That’s the second time in four starts that Iwakuma has come up empty (2.1 innings at Boston Aug. 24).
With three starts remaining, Iwakuma (14-7, 3.11) still has a chance to finish the season with an incredibly quirky stat: more wins than walks. Iwakuma has won 14 games and walked 16 batters.
No pitcher who started at least 24 games has ended a season with more wins than walks since Carlos Silva for Minnesota in 2005. Before Silva did it, the feat had not been accomplished since 1994 when Bret Saberhagen finished a strike-shortened year with 14 wins and 13 walks.
If Iwakuma can win his last three without issuing a walk, he will join the following with more wins than walks in a season:
|1913||Christy Mathewson||Giants||25||21||1.6 BB/9 over 17 seasons|
|1914||Christy Mathewson||Giants||24||23||Inducted in HOF in 1936|
|1919||Slim Sallee||Reds||21||20||Went 21-7 with 2.06 ERA|
|1994||Bret Saberhagen||Mets||14||13||Season shortened by strike|
|2005||Carlos Silva||Twins||9||9||5-18 for Seattle 2008-09|
Minnesota’s Phil Hughes also has a chance to join the list. He has 15 wins and 15 walks. Hughes defeated Seattle 2-0 July 8 with eight strikeouts — and no walks.