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Mariners vs. Athletics: The Most Interesting Postseason Race

Associated Press

The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics are gearing up for what looks to be a tight race for the second wild card spot.

The Seattle Mariners have not made the postseason since 2001. It is the longest active streak of futility in Major League Baseball. Along with the Washington Nationals, they are also the only club to not have appeared in a World Series.

However, in 2018 the Mariners have a chance to end the curse that has grasped them for 17 grueling seasons. The good news is that with a 60-40 record through Jul. 24, the Mariners currently hold the second American League Wild Card spot. The bad news is that their grip on that spot is tenuous at best thanks to an upstart A’s squad that has been on a roll as of late.

The Oakland Athletics: How Should They Deploy Familia?

The A’s are 58-43 through Jul. 24, which puts them only a few games from uprooting the Mariners in the American League West standings and in the wild-card race. Unlike the Mariners, the Athletics have a positive run differential (+34) while being the seventh-best team in baseball in slugging percentage.

Due to their recent hot streak, the Athletics firmly believe they have a legitimate chance to contend this season. As a result, they have been official buyers at the Trade Deadline, starting with the Jeurys Familia trade.

The trade that saw the Mets closer to the Bay Area was important for the Athletics. It established the American League West as the most interesting division to watch while solidifying the A’s strong bullpen.

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Jeurys Familia should aid an A’s bullpen that was already good. Photo credit: Anthony Grupposo- USA TODAY Sports

Familia should aid an A’s bullpen that has been strong all year. Despite infamously blowing saves in the 2015 World Series against the Royals, Familia is without a doubt an above-average reliever and one of the better closers in the game. In Oakland though, Blake Treinen more than likely will remain in the closer spot, leaving Familia to serve in a role different than one he had in Queens. 

Familia is pitching similarly well to what he did in 2016 when he was an All-Star and received one MVP vote. So far in 2018, he is in the top-30 in WAR for relievers and in the top 20 in FIP. Between his time with the Mets and Athletics, Familia has sported a respectable WHIP and an ERA below 3.00:

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Pitching coach Scott Emerson and primary catcher Jonathan Lucroy are going to have to decide how to best utilize Familia. He has a trove of pitches that are consistently deployed. The chart below displays that Familia primarily uses four types of pitches: four-seam fastballs, sinkers, sliders, and splitters.

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As the chart shows, Familia has deployed his sinker most frequently. However, it is Famila’s splitter that yields the most whiffs from hitters. Despite using his splitter slightly less than 10% of the time, it has accounted for approximately 35% of whiffs from hitters Familia has faced in 2018:

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Familia previously stated that he wanted to reintroduce his splitter to his repertoire of pitches, and the A’s would be smart to let him do so. Based on his trend of fooling hitters with his splitter, Familia can perhaps be more effective to the Athletics if he decreased the usage of his sinker in favor of his splitter, which has been a more useful pitch.

Besides Familia, the Athletics may not be done dealing. The success of the core four infielders (Marcus Semien, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, and Jed Lowrie) eliminates a pressing need for a position upgrade, but the Athletics can use help in the rotation. As a result, Mike Fiers or Matt Harvey are two names to watch over the next few days.

Regardless of what Oakland does over the next week, A’s fans have to like the fact that they are buyers at the Trade Deadline. Thanks to the A’s extended success, Athletics fans have been flocking to the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. Against their rival Giants recently, the Athletics had the largest home crowd for a single game all season. 

Seattle Mariners: What Upgrades Should They Seek?

The Athletics’ success should make the Mariners consider potential upgrades. Their success this season has been more puzzling to say the least. Many are completely flummoxed: how can a team with a negative run differential win as much as the M’s have? With Robinson Cano dealing with the ignominy of being suspended for 80 games and the postseason, the rest of the Mariners’ regulars have been forced to pick up the offensive slack. 

General Manager Jerry Dipoto is one of the main reasons why the Mariners are winning. Thanks to one risky trade, the two main players the Mariners received from the Diamondbacks — Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger — are leading the team’s offense without Cano.

Jean Segura is hitting like an absolute All-Star, batting .321/.350/.454. Meanwhile, Mitch Haniger was an under-the-radar good find by Dipoto and has become a staple in the Mariners’ offense. This season, Haniger has a .270/.365/.483 with 18 home runs and 67 RBIs through Jul. 24 while coming up big in key moments during the season.


Segura and Haniger have not been the only two good finds for Dipoto. The Mariners acquired Denard Span and Alex Colome from the Rays, two players that have filled pressing needs for the team. Span’s bat was needed when Cano got suspended and Colome fortified a bullpen that can support star closer Edwin Diaz.

The Mariners have also been lucky this year. Danny O’Neill of MyNorthwest highlights in his article that the Mariners have been 8-0 in extra inning games this year and have won only six games when they scored six or more runs than their opponent. There is considerable debate whether the Mariners can rely on this luck and a strong bullpen to stay in front of the A’s.

No team in MLB history has been undefeated in extra inning games all year. It would be stunning if the Mariners accomplished this. Hence, the Mariners could and should be scanning the market for players that could come in and contribute. In order to stay in front of the Athletics in the race for the last postseason spot, the Mariners need an upgrade at the one area that has not been addressed yet: starting pitching.

The Mariners’ pitching staff has not been as dominant as in past years. Although Mike Leake, Wade LeBlanc, and Marco Gonzales have pitched admirably, Felix Hernandez has not been a frontline ace for a couple years now. Even when ace pitcher James Paxton returns, the Mariners could still use another solid starter in the rotation down the stretch.

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James Paxton’s return should not stop the Mariners from seeking rotation upgrades. Photo credit: Ken Lambert, The Seattle Times.

With a farm system ranked 28th out of 30, Jerry Dipoto does not have the ammunition to pull off a big trade. As a result, he may be forced to seek smaller scale upgrades. Instead of going all-in for a Jacob deGrom or Chris Archer, the Mariners may opt to target J. A. Happ, Kevin Gausman, or Matt Harvey. The hope is that another starter in the rotation will solidify a group for the remainder of the season.

The Mariners have gotten close to the postseason in recent years. Making the playoffs seem to be a Sisyphean task for them: a desirable outcome yet always slightly out of reach. 2018 offers the Mariners an opportunity to rewrite the script. How Jerry Dipoto, known for making a series of frenetic trades, operates over the next few days will chart the Mariners course for the remainder of the 2018 season and the future.

If he fails, the curse continues. If he succeeds, Dipoto will be considered one of the main architects behind the team that brought postseason play back to The Emerald City.


(All statistics and information originated from ESPN.com, FanGraphs.com, or Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.)

Edited by Emily Berman, Dani Quintana.

SQuiz
When was the last time a MLB team made the postseason with a negative run differential?
Created 7/25/18
  1. 2011 Yankees, -19 runs
  2. 2007 Diamondbacks, -22 runs
  3. 2004 Red Sox, -5 runs
  4. 1997 Angels, -2 runs

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