BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 07/15/2016

Mariners’ second-half obstacle: Astros’ Altuve

The Mariners have to clear four teams in the second half to claim the second wild card. A major impediment is Houston Astros 2B Jose Altuve, the AL’s first-half MVP.

For a 5-foot- 6 guy, Jose Altuve packs quite a wallop. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

In order for the Mariners (45-44) to break their light-years-long (well, since 2001, anyway) absence from the MLB postseason, they will have to leap four teams – Houston (48-41), Detroit (46-43), Kansas City (45-43) and the Chicago White Sox (45-43) — that enter the second half ahead of Seattle for the second wild card spot.

The challenge is made more daunting by the schedule. They play 37 of their final 73 games against teams ahead of them in the American League standings, including 20 against clubs in contention for the second wild card. Seattle also has a trio against the New York Yankees (44-44), who are a half game back of the Mariners.

The short summary: Unless, or until, the Mariners fall out of contention, as is their annual custom, no game is irrelevant.

The Mariners will also play 38 of their final 73 vs. the AL West, against which they went a less-than-satisfying 15-22 in the first half. That mark included a 4-6 effort against the Houston Astros, who swept Seattle at Minute Maid Park July 4-6, when the Mariners botched an opportunity to move into second place in the division race.

The Mariners and Astros face each other nine more times, starting with a three-game set  Friday night at Safeco Field. Seattle can improve its wild card chances by containing — if such a thing is possible — Houston 2B Jose Altuve, the American League’s first-half MVP (yes, over Mike Trout), who thrashed Seattle for a .417 batting average, 10 runs scored and a 1.182 OPS during the first half.

The 5-foot-6 foot Altuve, who started ahead of Robinson Cano in the All-Star Game, put together one of the more remarkable first halves by a second baseman since 1900, producing a slash line of .341/.413/.542 (vs. Cano’s .313/.368/.555).

The question is: How many second baseman, regardless of league, hit at least .340 with a .400+ on-base percentage and a .500+ slugging mark in a single season? The answer: Darned few.

Long before he managed the old Seattle Rainiers (1951), Rogers Hornsby pulled off the .340/.400/.500 slash nine times between 1915-37, a major reason why he entered the Hall of Fame in 1942. Nap Lajoie, whose career spanned 1896-1916, did it four times. He entered Cooperstown in 1937, the same year Charlie Gehringer hit .371/.458/.520 for the Detroit Tigers.

Only three second basemen have summited the .340/.400/.500 plateau since, none since 1996 when Chuck Knoblauch of the Minnesota Twins enjoyed the best year of his career. This is the list of second baseman to have done it, with Hornsby, Lajoie and Gehringer (three times) represented by their best seasons and Altuve (89 games this season) shown for comparison purposes:

Year Player Team BA OBP SLG. Skinny
1901 Nap Lajoie Phi-A .426 .423 .643 ’01 Triple Crown, HOF 1937
1922 Rogers Hornsby StL .401 .459 .722 250 hits (42 homers)
1929 Tony Lazzeri NYY .354 .429 .561 193 hits (18 homers)
1930 Frankie Frisch StL .346 .407 .520 2,880 hits, HOF 1947
1937 Charlie Gehringer Det .371 .458 .520 6-time All-Star, HOF 1949
1949 Jackie Robinson Brk .342 .452 .528 203 hits, 124 RBIs, 37 SBs
1953 Red Schoendienst StL .342 .405 .502 193 hits (15 homers)
1996 Chuck Knoblauch Min .341 .448 .517 Didn’t win Silver Slugger
2015 Jose Altuve Hou .341 .413 .542 119 hits, 14 HRs, 51 RBIs

With the exceptions of Knoblauch and Altuve, every player is a member of the Hall of Fame. At 26 years old, Altuve is well on his way to establishing his HOF bona fides.

Signed by the Astros as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela in 2007, Altuve reached the majors in 2011. He’s been a four-time All-Star, won two Silver Slugger awards, earned a Gold Glove and captured a batting title. Through his age-25 season, the most similar batters to him, according to, include Pete Rose, Rod Carew and Paul Molitor, none of whom came close to a .340/.400/.500 year.

This season, Altuve ranks first in the AL in batting average (.341) and hits (119), second in stolen bases (23), times on base (166) and intentional walks (8), third in offensive WAR (4.5) and fourth in OBP (.413), OPS (.954) and runs created (81). He’s also whacked 14 home runs, one shy of his career-high of 15.

Guys who stand 5-foot-6 aren’t supposed to do this, especially the home run part. In fact, only two other players in history who stood 5-foot-6 or shorter hit 15 or more in a season. One was Hack Wilson, who did it five times for the Cubs and once for the Dodgers between 1926-32, and somebody named Dutch Zwilling, who did it for the Chicago Chi-Feds of the Federal League in 1914.

Now we have Jose Altuve, who has nine more opportunities this season to feast on Mariner pitching.



  • Kevin Lynch

    Excellent article.

  • Long-Time Mariners Fan

    Quote: “The short summary: Unless, or until, the Mariners fall out of contention, as is their annual custom, no game is irrelevant.”

    (Or, to resolve the double negative: “Every game is relevant.”)

    This is the attitude that needs to be articulated and reinforced in the clubhouse. So often, managers will say things like, “Well, if we just concentrate on winning series, we’ll make up ground.” No. Every player, every game – when they step out onto the green, they should be saying, ‘We’ve got to win this game.” If we beat the Astros tonight and Saturday, we still take the field on Sunday with the thought: “We’ve got to win this game.” That’s how a playoff spot is achieved. That’s how playoffs are won. That’s how you get to the World Series.

    • Kevin Lynch

      Excellent post.

    • art thiel

      I believe that is the aspiration. But human nature and fatigue conspire against it over a long season. The key for a manager is to have half the lineup and most of the pitchers at the apex each day, so they cover for the weary, who later return the favor.

      And the best at doing that still lose at least sixty.

  • Williec

    So I’ve been wondering for a while now, where was Altuve when the M’s were falling in love with Ackley?