Seattle Mariners: The Week That Could Change History

Sep 25, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Seattle Mariners outfielder Leonys Martin (12) congratulates catcher Jesus Sucre (2) after scoring in the fifth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Seattle Mariners outfielder Leonys Martin (12) congratulates catcher Jesus Sucre (2) after scoring in the fifth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /

The Mariners begin their final stretch of games today. There could not be more on the line. As of this moment, the Mariners sit 2.5 games out of the final Wild Card spot. They have seven games to change all of that. Their biggest problem: they don’t play any of the three teams that are currently ahead of them in the standings.

To say the Mariners have an uphill battle in front of them would be an understatement. Their competition may not seem too threatening, but the weight of these games escalates the pressure.

Three Games Vs. Astros, Sept. 26th-28th

Starting off the week, the Mariners face the Houston Astros. The Astros are also in the the playoff hunt, but they are three games back. Of course, if the Astros won the series, or even swept, it would mark the end of the M’s run and extend their playoff-less streak to fifteen years- the longest in baseball.

Unfortunately, the Astros have had the Mariners number all year. After winning the first series they faced each other back in April, everything has gone the Astros way. The next four series the Astros would win three (one by a sweep) and split a four game set.

There is some good news though when you look at how certain players fair against their divisional foes. When the M’s have beaten the Astros, Robinson Cano has usually played a big role.

In May, Cano brought in six Mariners in a 6-3 victory. In that same series he had a multi-homer

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game including the game winner in the tenth. A few months later, he would hit another game-deciding hit, bringing in the only run of the game to defeat the Astros 1-0.

But, It’s not just Cano who likes facing the Astros. His teammates historically have also jumped in on the fun. When having played less than a hundred games against a team, Nelson Cruz has collected twenty or more home runs against two teams. The Astros are one of them.

And, Outside of the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels, Kyle Seager has not hit more home runs versus any team. To boot, Seager has played over thirty less games against the Astros then the two other AL West teams.

Let’s also not forget that the ever patient, Seth Smith, had a two-home run, four RBI game against the Astros less than two weeks ago.

That’s a lot of potential offensive damage that could give the Mariners wins, but it also comes down to the pitching.

Earlier this year, Hisashi Iwakuma pitched seven innings of two-hit, shutout ball. Even though he was mediocre in his second start against the Astros, his ability to shut them down is in his current wheelhouse. Iwakuma will start the series opener.

James Paxton will also be itching to take the mound for a redemption outing on Wednesday. Paxton was exceptional against the Astros in his last start. He went seven innings and gave up just four hits. If not for a two RBI single in the sixth, Paxton would have earned a W instead of a heart-breaking 2-1 defeat.

If all or most of these possibilities come true- in addition to a few pleasant surprises from the rest of the lineup- the Mariners should have no trouble sweeping the Astros in Houston.

Four Games Vs. Athletics, Sept. 29th-Oct. 2nd

Immediately following the series with the Astros, the Mariners head back home. They will face their other divisional rivals, the Oakland Athletics in a four game set at Safeco Field. Depending on what plays out in Houston (and around the league), this could be the most important series since the early 2000’s.

It is possible that the Mariners could gain four games on the Orioles, Tigers and Blue Jays in their effort to make the playoffs. While that may seem unlikely for those three times to lose their last four games, the M’s could pull a sweet sweep of the Athletics.

This season alone, the Mariners are 10-5 against the A’s. And, since they were swept by the A’s back in May, they have won ten of the last twelve meetings.

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In their prior battles, the Mariners core of the lineup has stepped up. Cano, Cruz and Seager have all made big plays at the plate, helping to beat the A’s. But history tells us that there are some unlikely Mariners that have been the Astros worst enemy.

Ketel Marte is one of the secret weapons the Mariners will surly use. In his brief two year career, there is no other team that Marte plays better against.

When he has faced a team at least five times, Marte has his best batting average, on base percentage and doubles legged out versus the A’s. But that’s not all. There is no other team he has more stolen bases against and he has only drawn more walks against the Texas Rangers.

And, even it was just Marte who had the Athletics number, that would be fine, but he’s not. Nori Aoki has also been the A’s nemesis in his career.

Over the past five years, Aoki has driven in more runs against the A’s then any other team. He also has the third best batting average versus the Athletics in comparison to the rest of the league.

Sep 12, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 12, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports /

Aoki’s career batting average of .347 versus the A’s in twenty-two games, matched with his second half batting average of .322 this season should spell trouble for the opposition.

As for the pitching, both Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker will be ready to continue their dominance. Together- in five starts- the two have an ERA that is slightly over 2.00 when facing the Athletics. Walker will be pitching the Friday night game and Hernandez will pitch in the season finale on Sunday.

If by some chance either of them slips up and the game is tight in the end, Edwin Diaz will take care of it. In three appearances as a closer, Diaz has been perfect. He faced nine batters and took down all of them, four by strikeout. The A’s are one of three teams not to have gotten a hit off the flamethrower.

Next: Mariners: What We Learned

If the Mariners can put all the pieces together, they have a good shot at beating the Astros and Athletics. While there is nothing else the Mariners can do to help themselves (aside from winning) the M’s faithful will have to do some voodoo on the Orioles, Tigers and Blue Jays to re-write the history books and be the organization’s first team since 2001 to make the playoffs.