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What Happened in June to the Seattle Mariners?

Saturday, July 02, 2016

 

As play was ready to get underway on Wednesday, June 1st, the Seattle Mariners were the owners of a 30-22 record, were a half a game behind the Texas Rangers in the American League West, and projected to have a 61.8% chance of making the playoffs in some capacity, either as AL west champions or as one of the two wildcard teams in the American League. Only days before, a streak of 22/23 days in first place had come to an end, but Mariners’ fans were feeling pretty optimistic. 

Fast forward to the dawn of July and as of the end of a split home stand against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Mariners have managed to win nine games and lose seventeen. That’s right, 9-17 for the month of June (see last night’s box score against the Baltimore Orioles for the final tally). As of Thursday, the Mariners stood at 39-39, in third place, 11.5 games out, with a 16.8% chance of making the playoffs. So, what happened?

Four is the Magic Number 

In baseball, four is the magic number, as in score four or more runs and you’ll probably win. Score fewer than four runs and you’ll probably lose. In May, the Mariners scored fewer than four runs in eleven games and, predictably, they have lost them all. In the four games that the Mariners scored exactly four runs, their record is 1-3. One win and fourteen losses in games scoring four or fewer runs. 

Over the same stretch, the Mariners have only managed to eke above .500 in games where the pitching held the opponents to four or fewer runs. For the month of June, the M’s rotation held opponents to four or fewer runs thirteen times, with the resulting outcomes accounting for only a 7-6 record. That leaves only two other wins for the entire month when the pitching staff allowed five or more runs. Thirteen times in the month the rotation teamed with the bullpen to allow five or more runs – thirteen times – for a combined record of 2-11. 

At the dish, on the mound, and in the field, the Mariners have failed to score enough runs while simultaneously surrendering too many runs. But, then that goes without saying. That can be said of any losing team. But why so good early and so dismal over the past month?

Injuries and Bad Luck

When Jerry Dipoto took over as GM of the M’s, he declared he would build around a core that consisted of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, and Felix Hernandez. Maybe not a “core four” like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Petitte of the New York Yankees’ most recent mini-dynasty, but clearly the best players coming out of the first base dugout at Safeco. 

It’s no surprise that of those core players – Felix Hernandez – was placed on the 15-day DL on June 2nd with a strained calf. He has not thrown a single pitch in the month of June. And while Felix may not have been pitching to his former Cy Young form – a .500 record and a 3.53 ERA – his absence from the rotation results in Nate Karns and Wade Leblanc and even Zach Lee eating his innings.  

In addition to an injury that would have many teams reeling as well, the Mariners have been kind of unlucky. While the close of May saw the Mariners with the second most runs scored in all of baseball, they haven’t fallen that far, thanks to some double digit outbursts here and there. They currently rank sixth in runs scored. 

A further examination of their Pythagorean projection at this juncture shows that Seattle “should” have a record of 43-35, so about a four game underperformance. 

July, August, and September

It’s important to remember that as we enter July, the baseball season hasn’t yet reached the half-way mark. You’ll need to grill up some burgers and dogs and settle in to watch fireworks on Monday before that happens. 

While the Texas Rangers have been setting a torrid pace, now tied with the Chicago Cubs for the best record in baseball, the Mariners have a long way to go still. The dominant teams such as the Rangers, Cleveland Indians, and Baltimore Orioles may seal up their respective divisions, but there should be plenty of competition for the two wild card spots, and the Mariners should be right in the thick of it if they can get healthy and keep their focus on four.  

 

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