M’s Racing… West Wide Open
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on July 30, 2006
Six Keys to Winning the West
I was holding off on any kind of “Pennant Chase”post until after the trade deadline, but I’m sitting here on a Sunday afternoon paying very close attention to the Oakland A’s-Toronto Blue Jays game.The M’s are in this thing, folks. After series wins versus Boston and Toronto at home and against Cleveland on the road, the Mariners ended game 3 of the Tribe series just three games back of division-leading Oakland.
To me, there are six keys to the Mariners finding a way to win this division, and here they are.
1. Felix Hernandez – The King has to turn out quality starts just about every time out, as he’s been doing for the past two months. Since May 25 his ERA is 3.39 and batters are hitting just .211 off him since June 1.
2. The A’s have to either trade Barry Zito without getting back equal current impact help, or Huston Street has to continue to struggle. He just blew another save (Toronto leads 5-3 now in the bottom of the 9th), and the rest of that bullpen gets stretched out, further than they are capable, if Street doesn’t perform.
I don’t think Beane can pull off a miracle this summer, and that rotation, with Harden out and Loaiza terribly under performing, can’t carry an offense that ranks 30th in baseball in slugging percentage.
3. Other divisional rivals have to swing-and-miss at the deadline — Texas got their bat, and if they get the right pitcher, they’ll probably be the favorites to pull this out. The Angels have more pieces in which to acquire the offense they desperately need, but who knows whether the ultra-conservative Bill Stoneman is willing to pull the trigger.
One source informed me this afternoon that they offered a terrific package to Baltimore for Miguel Tejada, and Baltimore turned it down. LAA may strike out, and if they do, Seattle has a good shot to overtake them, should the rest of this list result in favor of Seattle.
4. Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson have to finish strong… but that’s not as far-fetched as it may seem on the surface. Sexson can hit .225 all he wants, but he must maintain his July slugging percentage (.531) for the heart of the M’s batting order.
Ditto Beltre — he’s slugging .557 since the all-star break and while it’s unreasonable to expect him to sustain that level of performance, if he stays above his current pace in July (.446 SLG), the M’s offense is just fine.
5. No major injuries, and this means you, Rafael Soriano. Raffy remains a critical part of what the M’s are trying to become this summer, and even with the emergence of Mark Lowe, Soriano is still necessary if the Mariners are to stay in the race – since the starters rarely go past the 6th inning.
6. Seattle has to buck up in division – The M’s cannot continue to get beat up by the west. Their 10-18 record versus Texas, Oakland and LA is a little bit deceiving, since they are 1-9 versus Oakland and .500 versus Texas and the Angels combined. But they must better the .500 mark versus all three in combination to have any chance at winning the division title.
Overall, things do have to fall in place for the Mariners to make up three games on the A’s and also pass up two other clubs in the west, but it’s far from impossible, and the word improbable fades away with every series win.
Note: Thanks to B.J. Ryan serving up a bomb to Milton Bradley, the M’s will not gain ground on Oakland Sunday. But the Rangers and Angels play later this evening, and passing them both is just as critical as gaining ground on the leaders.