BY Steve Rudman 10:44AM 05/04/2015

Mariners’ AL West deficit is more like an abyss

The Mariners are eight games back in the AL West race after only 25 games. Not since 1981 has a Seattle team found itself further in arrears at the 25-game mark.

Felix Hernandez will try to halt Seattle’s four-game losing streak Monday night in Anaheim. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

It’s difficult to tell which ranks higher on the list of sporting surprises: The Houston Astros, winners of 10 in a row, in first place in the AL West, seven games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels and 7.5 clear of Oakland, or the Mariners, broomed  — fergawdsakes — by the one-time Lastros Sunday, eight back and languishing in fourth place.

The Astros lost 92 games in 2014, 111 two years ago, 107 the year before that and 106 the season before that. They were expected to finish fifth again in the AL West and pose scant threat to the likes of the offensively beefed-up Mariners, widely considered a World Series contender, especially after the off-season acquisition of home run champ Nelson Cruz.

Three days ago, after the Mariners dropped the second of four against the Astros by allowing three home runs, manager Lloyd McClendon cautioned against panic.

“I’m not going to, after 24 (actually 23) games, say the season is burning,” he told reporters. “That’s not very responsible, and that’s certainly not the message that I’m going to send to my team. Do we need to work and do we need to get some things done? Yeah. Not blow it up, no.”

But the next night, the Mariners, despite four solo homers of their own, allowed five more home runs to the Astros and were thrashed, 11-4. Sunday, the Mariners fell behind 6-1, allowing three more long balls, before rallying for a 6-6 tie. But the Astros got them in the end, 7-6, completing the sweep.

After allowing the fewest homers in the American League in April (10), the Mariners surrendered 11 to Houston in the first three games of May.

“It was a tough game where we could have laid down, but they fought back and really grinded it out,” McClendon said after Sunday’s loss. “They showed a lot of fortitude, which leads me to believe this team is going to be just fine.”

Maybe the Mariners will be fine, but if true, it will run contrary to their own history. Consider: The Mariners are eight back in the division race after playing only 25 games. The last time a Mariner club was farther back after 25 was 1981, when a Maury Wills mis-managed team started 6-18-1 (they had a rare tie with Minnesota), a 14-game deficit. The Mariners fired Wills then and there.

Between Wills’ dismissal and 1994, only one Mariner team, Jimmy Snyder’s in 1988, fell as far back as 7.5 at the 25-game mark. Since 1995, Seattle’s first playoff year, only one other team (2013) found itself behind by as many as McClendon’s bunch is now. That team lost 91 games and sent Eric Wedge ranting into unemployment.

Most GB after first 25 games, since 1995

Year Manager GB Skinny
2013 Eric Wedge 8.0 Closed gap to 5, faded, finished 71-91, 25 GB
2015 Lloyd McClendon 8.0 Last time M’s were farther back after 25: 1981
2004 Bob Melvin 7.0 Got as close as 6.5 GB, finished 63-99. 29 GB
2012 Eric Wedge 6.5 Never got closer than 6, finished 75-87, 19.0 GB
1998 Lou Piniella 5.5 Shaved deficit to 3.5, ended 76-85, 11.5 GB
2011 Eric Wedge 5.0 Reached 0.5 GB June 1, faded to 67-95, 29 GB
2014 Lloyd McClendon 5.0 Got within 1.5 GB May 8, ended season 11 GB
1995 Lou Piniella 3.5 13 GB Aug, 2, 11.5 Aug. 24, rallied to win AL West
2008 John McLaren 3.0 Closest M’s came to lead; finished 61-101, 39 GB

Of the nine teams listed, only one (1995) reached the postseason, and that required one of the biggest comebacks in major league history coupled with an epic collapse by the Angels.

Of the seven teams that fell behind by a minimum of three and a maximum of eight at the 25-game mark (excluding this year’s club) none made up more than three games in the division race over the balance of the season. Four of the seven ended up losing 90 or more, including John McLaren’s 2008 Mariners, who finished 61-101. That team was only three back after 25.

McClendon has stated repeatedly that his current club has the potential to become special, and has talked about Seattle entering a “golden age.” Maybe he’s right. But the trend doesn’t inspire optimism.

Next

The Mariners continue their 10-game road trip with the first of three Monday night against the Angels in Anaheim. Felix Hernandez (4-0, 1.82) will contest RHP Matt Shoemaker (2-1, 6.00). Hernandez, who halted Seattle’s four-game losing streak from April 13-17 with a 12-strikeout, two-walk performance against Texas, will be seeking the first 5-0 start of his career.


YourThoughts

  • coug73

    A Felix win halts the bleeding. A Felix loss fuels the woe are the Mariners.

    History can be vexing.

    • art thiel

      The present is hardly a picnic.

      • coug73

        Ah, picnic’s. Had a good meal and fun with family. No discussion of the Mariners but brief moments of Giants and Dodger banter on Tres de Mayo.

  • greybeard56

    We’re finally at the point where it’s legitimate to ask if Safeco Field was built atop an ancient Native American burial ground. Or perhaps the nature of the ongoing curse is simpler – the continued presence of Howard Lincoln in the FO.

    • art thiel

      Two familiar themes. We need to be more original.

  • poulsbogary

    To borrow a churchill phrase . . . never were so many seattle sportwriters, so wrong, by so much.

    • art thiel

      Nah. We’ve been wrong before. And let me know if you think the regular season ends May 4.

      • poulsbogary

        The wheels are falling off. they were gonna win the division, they were gonna make the playoffs, they were gonna get to the world series. Hey, I admit it, i bought into everything that was written. All of it. I thought this was the year.

      • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

        Didn’t the Mariners suck in April of 1995 also?I am guessing there was an article or two written then that had the title “Is there any hope of Salvage?” Flavor to it as well. Is it safe to assume Houston will not win 125 games this year?

  • greybeard56

    My humble prediction: 100 losses and both Lloyd & Jack Z shown the door. Howie stays and next year is lather, rinse and repeat with a new supporting cast. And the year after that, and the year after that…

    If WA ever enacts a state income tax, that will seal the M’s fate as the AL West’s black hole of futility. I suspect that about the only thing enticing the occasional great player to the Safe is the prospect of a 9-figure payday without forking over an extra 10-15% of the kitty to the gubmint.

    • art thiel

      Good point about the asset of no state income tax. But another 100 loss season? That would mean a second time as the only team to spend more than $100M in payroll to get 100 losses.

  • jafabian

    Still believe in this team. They don’t quit and aren’t pointing fingers. An 8 game deficit can be made up PDQ, especially in the AL West. If anything, Jack will have to consider doing some smart deals at the trading deadline rather than calling up players from the farm.