“Ladies and gentlemen, we are entering the witching hour. Where wins become losses and losses become wins.”— Scott Hanson
Scott Hanson sums it up quite nicely every week during the NFL season as games enter the fourth quarter. Anything can happen in the final stretch of a game or season, and no situation demonstrates it better than what is currently going on in the MLB. The Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers are all within a half game of each other within the American League West standings and with 10 games left to go. This is an unprecedentedly tight race, the likes of which haven’t been seen since divisions came into existence in 1969.
Amidst the excitement of it all, one of the three teams is likely to miss the playoffs entirely, and fans of each team think it might be them on the chopping block. All of them are right to worry as well, with each team having a losing month of September so far. To make matters even more dramatic, the Mariners play seven games against Texas and the other three against Houston in a climactic finish that will make or break their season.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Mariners exited August with a 21-6 record, breaking the all-time franchise record for wins within one calendar month. Since then, they have gone 8-11, only reaching this point thanks to a clean three-game sweep of the pitiful Oakland Athletics. The bullpen, which has been heralded as elite for the entire season so far, has completely fallen off the rails. They rank third worst in Fielding Independent Pitching amongst the entire MLB, with the Rangers at second worst and the Astros at fifth worst. In fact, relievers are directly responsible for six of the 11 team losses in the month of September, signifying their failures in high leverage. Starter George Kirby has also felt the effects, allowing more walks, home runs and hits than he has in any other month this year.
The offense has also cooled down to just below league average, though that’s a lot closer to their season numbers as opposed to their blistering hot August. Julio Rodriguez and J.P. Crawford have been just as consistent as they were all season, but Teoscar Hernandez has regressed from his August form. Ty France and Josh Rojas are suddenly nowhere near as valuable as they can be. Jarred Kelenic hasn’t posted phenomenal numbers either, but he only has six games under his belt since returning from a broken foot.
In the month of September, the Mariners have lost series to the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers. The competition has been fierce (minus the last-place New York Mets), with three of the teams still in playoff contention. That said, my dad likes to mention during times like these that if they want to win in the playoffs, they will have to beat these teams anyways. If the Mariners can’t beat the Rays now, how will they beat them again in October? If the Dodgers make it to the World Series, what’s to stop the Mariners from losing four straight games to them? If the Mariners are claiming to be a playoff team, they will have to play competitive baseball against other playoff teams.
Fortunately for the Mariners and their fans, the team has an opportunity to prove that they are capable of hanging with the best. By virtue of making the playoffs, the Mariners will have proven that they are at the very least on par with the Rangers and the Astros. We as fans know what the team is capable of, so we know they can shock the league. The only thing left to do is wait and see.