Mitch Haniger saves Mariners late: ‘I take pride in every facet of the game’
Nonexistent offense has just about squashed the Seattle Mariners’ playoff hopes. You name the category, and the Mariners have been one of the worst in the majors since the calendar turned to July.
“It’s a broken record. It really is,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said after scoring two runs in the first two games against the Yankees this past weekend. “It’s frustrating. You have to square a few more balls up, get more pressure on other teams.
“Some nights you are getting pitches to hit and you’re just not squaring it up, or you’re fouling them off, or just not taking advantage of what’s there. Unfortunately the timing of this is really bad.”
So bad that the Mariners have fallen from what was once an 11½-game advantage on the Oakland Athletics in June to a 7½-game deficit entering Tuesday’s game.
Back then, when the Mariners were 24 games above .500 on July 5, it was easy to think about playoff plans. There was more talk of how they would look once Robinson Cano was ineligible to play in the postseason than what it would take to actually get there for the first time in 17 years.
But the A’s turned a 34-36 record midway through June into 87-57 by Monday in what has been a jaw-dropping achievement.
The Mariners, if they are to end the longest postseason drought in North American professional sports, would need to do something equally improbable in their last 19 games. More, probably.
But ... let’s say they do that.
What would that even look like?
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Since July 1, only the Giants (203) have scored fewer runs than the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Mariners?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Mariners</a> (208). <br><br>Only Marlins (50) and Giants (38) have fewer HRs than M's (55). <br><br>And only Tigers, Padres, Giants have lower OBP than M's (.299). <a href="https://t.co/heXNAxo547">https://t.co/heXNAxo547</a></p>— TJ Cotterill (@TJCotterill) <a href="https://twitter.com/TJCotterill/status/1038661611295100928?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 9, 2018</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
For one they can’t lose any more series like they did this past weekend against the Yankees. They don’t have to sweep every series, but certainly can’t lose them with the Padres, Angels, Astros, Rangers and A’s remaining on their schedule.
Say they take their next two games against the Padres. Follow that with three wins in four games against the Angels, two of three against the Astros, sweep the Rangers in three games, sweep the A’s in three games and finish with three wins in four games in the regular-season finale at home against the Rangers.
Highly improbable, sure, but not impossible. That’s a 16-3 stretch that gets the Mariners to a 95-67 record.
And they need the A’s to crater back into the stratosphere, maybe finish 8-10.
They’re not likely to lose every series, certainly not their next one against the Orioles. But say they don’t sweep the Orioles and Twins and then lose a three-game series against the surging Rays and then against the Angels.
That would set up a three-game series in Seattle between the A’s with the M’s sitting three games back in the loss column. A Seattle sweep sets them a half-game back of Oakland before Seattle’s four-game, season-ending home series against Texas.
The A’s then win their final series against the Angels, the Mariners take 3-of-4 games against Texas – voila – both teams finish 95-67, forcing a one-game playoff for the final wild card (with the Mariners getting home-field advantage for winning the season series vs. the A’s.)
If you’ve read this far, you’re quite the optimist.
In short: The Mariners’ playoff hopes hang on what essentially amounts to a miracle.
And it’s going to take a different-looking Mariners than the one that’s teetered around .500 since the All-Star break.
“We obviously know what’s at stake,” outfielder Denard Span said. “It’s frustrating any time you lose, no matter what time of the year it is. We just haven’t been able to collectively get it going. We get a couple hits but they are spread out. We just got to find a way to come together and have better team at-bats.”
They did that in their final offensive frame Sunday against the Yankees. Mitch Haniger led off with a walk, stole second, got to third on Jean Segura’s perfectly placed sacrifice bunt and scored on Robinson Cano’s groundball with Haniger running on contact. No hits, but a game-winning run.
The Mariners scored more runs Sunday with a bottom-of-the-order that included Kristopher Negron, David Freitas and Guillermo Heredia than they had scored either of the previous two nights when it was Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino and Dee Gordon.
And say what you want about the Mariners going from two weeks of holding first place in the American League West this season to where they sit now, but Sunday’s win gave them 79 for the season, which is already more than they had all of last year.
Seattle’s .552 winning percentage this season is their best since 2003, when they finished with 93 wins and would have been the second wild card if that existed then – instead, they finished with the AL’s fourth-best record and were two games back of the Red Sox and three back of the A’s.
“It’s not like we need more energy,” Cano said. “We’re all here on the same page and you get everyone here showing up every day and wanting to win and they want to go out fighting. It’s just not going to go your way every time.
“But what I love is they come in here and fight and compete and they give everything they got.”
Even when that meant literally fighting last week.
The Mariners have no time left to get back to the team that was so electric through the first half of the season. It has to start Tuesday … and even that might not be enough if they don’t get help from Oakland.
Otherwise all the offseason questions surrounding this roster — like what to do about Nelson Cruz’s expiring contract? — start before October instead of after it. The Astros and A’s will be young, talented teams next year, too.
“We got to go out like there’s nothing to lose,” pitcher James Paxton said. “We’re going to have to get hot in order to make something happen here. We have to find a way to come together and get some wins like we were when we were hot earlier in the season. We’re a one-run club – just takes some pitchers having good starts, us getting across just enough runs and the bullpen doing a good job. Hopefully we can put it together here.”
Mariners schedule (79-64)
Vs. San Diego, Sept. 11-12
At Los Angeles Angels, Sept. 13-16
At Houston, Sept. 17-19
At Texas, Sept. 21-23
Vs. Oakland, Sept. 24-26
Vs. Texas, Sept. 27-30
Athletics schedule (87-57)
At Baltimore, Sept. 11-13
At Tampa Bay, Sept. 14-16
Vs. Los Angeles Angels, Sept. 18-20
Vs. Minnesota, Sept. 21-23
At Seattle, Sept. 24-26
At Los Angeles Angels, Sept. 28-30