The Mariners open what might be their most important homestand in more than a decade Friday, and as third baseman Kyle Seager points out: "I think everybody is scoreboard-watching now. You know what’s going on."
Armed with an eight-game winning streak, the Mariners began an open date Thursday trailing Toronto by just 1 1/2 games for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
"When you’re playing meaningful games in September," veteran reliever Steve Cishek said, "it makes the season that much more fun. In Miami, my first couple of seasons there, we were just waiting to get through September."
The Mariners, and their fans, know what that’s like. The 14 years since their last postseason appearance is the longest current drought in Major League Baseball.
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So are they scoreboard-watching?
"Even if you don’t want to watch," second baseman Robinson Cano said, "you have to watch. Because it’s right there. Right in your face. But for us, it doesn’t matter if you watch it or not. We have to win. That’s the bottom line for us."
The Mariners have 16 games remaining and the next six could hold the key to their season: three this weekend against Houston, a division rival that has proven a tough match-up, and three next week against the Blue Jays.
"It’s exciting to come every day to the ballpark," designated hitter Nelson Cruz said. "The pitching has been amazing. It’s in our hands. If we keep playing the way we’ve been doing, one game at a time…"
Before Thursday’s games, FiveThirtyEight.com’s computer projections pegged the Mariners as having a 34-percent chance to reach postseason. Fangraphs.com had it at 26.3 percent, while BaseballProspectus.com showed 29.1 percent.
"Everybody watches to see what the other teams are doing," rookie closer Edwin Diaz said. "We want to go to the playoffs and give the people in Seattle what they want. We’re very confident right now."
The hardcore fan should bookmark the FiveThirtyEight site because it updates its projections at the conclusion of every game throughout the day. With so many contending clubs, a single victory or loss by anyone can create a domino effect.
Make what you want of the projections. The Mariners’ chances were in the low single digits prior to their eight-game winning streak. Things can change in a hurry.
"There was a while there when I didn’t want to watch (the scoreboard)," manager Scott Servais said. "We were in that bad stretch and trying to get through the Texas series (Sept. 5-8). You had a feeling that it might be slipping away a little bit.
"But in the back of my mind, I thought we had another run left in us."
Now it’s a point of keeping that run going.
While there are other possibilities, the Mariners appear locked in a battle with four other clubs for the two wild-card spots: Detroit and three of the four clubs battling for the AL East crown (Boston, Baltimore, Toronto and New York).
Houston is only 3 1/2 games back in the wild-card race. That’s not insurmountable, but the Astros and Mariners have six head-to-head games remaining. If Houston climbs back into it, it will likely be at the Mariners’ expense.
The three-game series this weekend at Safeco Field is pivotal for both clubs. The Astros hold an 8-5 lead in the season series and a 20-12 edge over the last two seasons.
Want to think positive? The Mariners had lost 10 of their last 12 to Texas before winning three of four earlier this month in the series that Servais cited. That turnaround kick-started their current surge.
Now, looking ahead:
The Mariners’ closing schedule shows 10 of 16 remaining games are at home (where they are 40-31), but nine of the 16 are against postseason contenders. Even so, the appear to have a slightly easier road than their primary competitors.
Boston, Baltimore Toronto, New York and Detroit each have 17 games remaining. Only Baltimore plays more games at home (10) than on the road (seven).
All five play more games against other contenders. The Orioles and Detroit each have 10 games remaining against contenders. Toronto plays 13 contenders. Boston and New York each play 14.
Much of that is because there are four AL East still in contention.
It’s a lot to keep track of.
"I never scoreboard-watched so much in my life as last year (in St. Louis)," Cishek recalled. "The top three teams in our division (Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs) were the top three records in baseball. No one would lose.
"You were always hoping for that one day when one of those (other) teams would lose. That’s what it’s like here now."
Double-A Jackson looked to win the Southern League championship Thursday when it carried a 2-0 lead into its game at Mississippi (Braves) in its best-of-five series. Paul Blackburn was the scheduled starting pitcher.
***Lo-A Clinton used an eight-run fourth inning Wednesday to rolling to a 16-6 victory over Great Lakes (Dodgers) in the first game of the best-of-five Midwest League championship series. The series continued Thursday at Clinton.
It was 30 years ago Friday — Sept. 16, 1986 — that Harold Reynolds hit his first career home run, while Mike Morgan pitched a complete game in a 7-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox at the Kingdome.
Reynolds came in his 206th career game. He hit just 21 homers in his 12 big-league seasons, including 17 in his 10 years with the Mariners. Morgan had 10 shutouts in his 22-year career, including three in his three years with the Mariners.
Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready will play the national anthem prior to Friday’s game as part of the Mariners annual Crohn’s & Colitis Awareness Night…the Mariners enter Friday in search of their first nine-game winning streak since May 27-June 5, 2003. They have won more than eight in a row only five times in their history…Kyle Seager’s power consistency is notable. He hit five homers apiece in April, May, June, July and August and has four so far in September.
The Mariners open a six-game homestand when they face Houston at 7:10 p.m. Friday at Safeco Field.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez (11-5 with 3.58 ERA) will face Astros right-hander Collin McHugh (10-10, 4.86) in the start to a three-game weekend series.
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on the Mariners Radio Network, which includes 710 ESPN.
The homestand concludes next week with three games against Toronto.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners
CLOSING SCHEDULES FOR AL POSTSEASON COMPETITORS
(Prior to Thursday’s games)
Texas (87-70, led AL West by 8 1/2 games over the Mariners). 15 games: Oakland (3), Los Angeles Angels (3), at Oakland (3), Milwaukee (3) and Tampa Bay (3). 12 at home, three on road. All 15 against non-contenders.
Cleveland (84-61, led AL Central by six games over Detroit). 17 games: at Chicago White Sox (1), Detroit (3), Kansas City (3), Chicago White Sox (3), at Detroit (4) and at Kansas City (3). Nine at home, seven on road. 13 vs. contenders, 4 vs. non-tenders.
Boston (81-64, led AL East by one game over Baltimore). 17 games: New York Yankees (4), at Baltimore (4), at Tampa Bay (3), at New York Yankees (3) and at Toronto (3). Seven at home, 10 on road. 14 vs. contenders, 3 vs. non-contenders.
Baltimore (80-65, led wild-card standings by one game over Toronto). 17 games: Tampa Bay (4), Boston (4), Arizona (3), at Toronto (3) and at New York Yankees (3). 10 at home, seven on road. 10 vs. contenders, seven vs. non-contenders.
Toronto (79-66, led race for second wild-card spot by one game over Detroit). 17 games: at Los Angeles Angels (4), at Mariners (3), New York Yankees (4), Baltimore (3) and at Boston (3). Seven at home, 10 on road. 13 vs. contenders; four vs. non-contenders.
Detroit (78-67, trailed Toronto by one game for final wild-card spot). 17 games. Minnesota (1), at Cleveland (3), at Minnesota (3), Kansas City (3), Cleveland (4) and at Atlanta (3). Eight at home, nine on road. 10 vs. contenders, seven vs. non-contenders.
Mariners (78-68, trailed Toronto by 1 1/2 games for final wild-card spot). 16 games: Houston (3), Toronto (3), at Minnesota (3), at Houston (3) and Oakland (4). 10 at home, six on road. Nine vs. contenders, seven vs. non-contenders.
New York (77-68, trailed Toronto by two games for final wild-card spot). 17 games: at Boston (4), at Tampa Bay (3), at Toronto (4), Boston (3) and Baltimore (3). Six at home, 11 on road. 14 vs. contenders, three vs. non-contenders.
Houston (76-70, trailed Toronto by 3 1/2 games for final wild-card spot). 16 games: at Mariners (3), at Oakland (3), Los Angeles Angels (4), Mariners (3) and at Los Angeles Angels (3). Seven at home, nine on road. Six vs. contenders, 10 vs. non-contenders.
Kansas City (74-71, trailed Toronto by five games for final wild-card spot). 17 games: Oakland (1), Chicago White Sox (4), at Cleveland (3), at Detroit (3), Minnesota (3) and Cleveland (3). 11 at home, six on road. Nine vs. contenders, eight vs. non-contenders.