By BRIAN HIGHT, OREGON SPORTS NEWS
Heading into this week’s homestand against the Oakland A’s and the Detroit Tigers and next week’s series versus the New York Yankees, the Seattle Mariners’ record stood at 22-24. As it seems to be an annual ritual in the Pacific Northwest, the Mariners tend to start the season slowly. There’s not really an easy explanation. Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s the travel. Who knows? But believe it or not, the Mariners’ record heading into this week was better than at the same point last season, a season that saw the franchise break the longest playoff drought in the four major sports at that time. (That honor now belongs to Aaron Rodgers and the New York Jets, thanks to the Sacramento Kings making the NBA playoffs this season).
Last season, the Mariners’ record after 46 games was 19-27, three games worse than this season. That historic Mariners club didn’t actually get back to .500 until July 7th, when they pulled their record to even at 42-42. A 16-13 record in June reversed a dismal 10-18 May to put them in position to go on the wild 14-game winning streak that began on July 2nd and kept going until July 22nd. They started the streak at 37-42, coming off a loss to the Oakland A’s at home, and ended the streak at 51-42 before losing to the Houston Astros. When the streak began, the Mariners were in fourth place and 14.5 games behind the Astros. When it ended roughly three weeks later, the Mariners were in first place, tied for the lead in the American League West with the Astros.
Besides being early and the template from last season (although 14-game win streaks don’t grow on trees), another reason for optimism with this year’s team is their record in one-run games. Last year it was nuts. A record of 34-22 in one-run games is pretty remarkable. They were also incredible in extra innings with an 11-5 record. By contrast, this season, the Mariners are 4-12 in one-run games and 2-5 in extra innings. Last season they were incredibly “clutch” (some may say lucky) – this season, not so much. By all accounts, the Mariners “should” have regressed to the mean last season (closer to their actual winning percentage) in one-run games. They didn’t, really, continue to outplay their record in “non-clutch” situations. This season they “should” also regress to the mean, playing closer to their true talent.
In the NBA, there’s a saying that a playoff series hasn’t started until the home team loses (sorry, Laker fans and Celtic fans). In Major League Baseball, the season doesn’t begin until it gets warm outside and the balls start to fly. The highest projected temperature in Seattle this week is 82 on Friday. So, hold on, Mariners fans, this season is far from over. It’s just beginning.