Staying alive!

After Friday night's painful loss to the LA Angels, it wasn't looking too good for Your Seattle Mariners. Setting aside for the moment how remarkable and amazing it was that the M's were still alive in the playoff chase after 159 games, the mood after Jarred Kelenic flied out to end Friday's 2-1 loss was, if not defeatist, sort of resigned. This is, after all, the Mariners we're talking about. History has taught us all hard lessons about managing expectations as fans of this historically-mismanaged franchise.

But yesterday afternoon kindled a ray of hope thanks to, well, the Rays. Tampa Bay clobbered the Yankees Saturday, denying New York a clinching win for one of the Wild Card berths. The Washington Nationals were not as friendly; they let the Red Sox put up a big ninth inning to assure Boston no worse than a tie for a Wild Card slot. The Blue Jays put the screws to their fellow avians in crushing the Orioles 10-1, thus keeping their own playoff hopes aloft. All was not lost.

But the Mariners had to win last night to make it matter.

AL WC Standings 10/3/21
  W L GB
New York 91 70
Boston 91 70
Seattle 90 71 1
Toronto 90 71 1

Thanks largely to Mitch Haniger and his five runs batted in, they delivered. With last night's thrilling come-from-behind 6-2 win over the Angels, the M's stayed alive. Today's season finale will be meaningful.

Here's the sitch, for those who haven't been obsessing over the possibilities for days now: With just one game left on every team's season schedule, all playoff teams have been determined except for the American League Wild Card entrants. (The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers are still duking it out for the National League West crown, but whichever of them doesn't get it will be a Wild Card team.) Neither of the two slots have been claimed and it all comes down to this afternoon for the four clubs still in the race. If the Mariners are to survive through the weekend, they need to beat the Angels one more time. They also need either one or both of the Yankees and Red Sox to lose their games.

So, let's get everyone set for the action.

The Mariners will be facing Angels starting pitcher Reid Detmers. A left-handed rookie, Detmers has never before faced Seattle. He's barely faced anyone at the big-league level; this will be his fifth career start. Detmers was called up to the Angels from Triple-A after the All-Star break having pitched only one game at that level (six shutout innings) after just 12 with the Alabama-based Double-A Rocket City Trash Pandas (you gotta love some of these minor league team names). He was the Angels' first-round draft selection last year, out of the University of Kentucky, where he went 20-6 over three seasons. Of his previous starts with the Halos, one was good—he earned a win against the mighty Houston Astros back on August 15th, going six innings and allowing just one run on three hits. He lost his other three, getting tagged for six runs in 413 by Oakland, five runs in 5 IP by the Dodgers, and three in 323 by Cleveland. The 22-year-old spent some time on the COVID-IL after testing positive for the coronavirus in late August and has pitched only once since then, a brief rehab start for the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees on September 27th (2 IP, 1 ER, 4 H). He was asymptomatic, but thanks to a quarantine period in a hotel in Baltimore he has spent the interim slowly building his endurance back up; if he lasts five innings today it'll be a surprise.

Seattle is starting left-hander Tyler Anderson, who has been a much better pitcher than his numbers would suggest. He did get lit up the last time he faced the Angels a little over a week ago, but that was his only poor performance since becoming a Mariner and just the third sub-par start of his year in total (the Braves torched him in May and the Nationals scored six runs off him in June while he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates). Take those three games out of the equation and his 4.41 season ERA drops to a respectable 3.37. In his last appearance, September 28th vs. the A's, Anderson threw a remarkable 40 strikes out of 46 pitches (87%) in his short-rest, four-inning start; combining all of his Mariner starts, the veteran southpaw has thrown 70% of his pitches for strikes. In four prior starts at TMP, Anderson has an ERA of 2.61 and a WHIP of 1.065.

LAA LogoUpdating the series opposition primer, here are the Angel batters currently running hot and cold:

  • HOT: Jared Walsh and only Jared Walsh. No other Halos have had a good run of things at the plate lately. Over his last ten games, Walsh has hit .400/.432/.600 with 10 RBI, including a big home run in last night's game.
  • WARM: Brandon Marsh, Shohei Ohtani, Juan Lagares, Kurt Suzuki. Marsh delivered the big two-run double in Friday's game to account for the Angels' only runs in their 2-1 win; over his last ten, he batted .263/.341/.316, though he's also struck out 10 times. Ohtani's been kept in check for the most part thanks to being pitched around; his .250/.533/.500 line over the past ten games leans heavily on 17 walks. Lagares has hit .273/.333/.318 in his last ten, while Suzuki has posted a line of .281/.324/.500 over his last ten games, including a home run last week against the M's in Anaheim.
  • COLD: Essentially everyone else, the most frigid being second baseman David Fletcher, outfielder José Rojas, and catcher Max Stassi. Fletcher was batting .300 as recently as August 15th and .290 as recently as September 4th; he's since dropped all the way to .260 and over his last ten games batted all of .063/.118/.094, saved from being .000 by two hits last night. Rojas has been nearly as bad, going .077/.200/.231 over his past ten. Stassi's last ten netted him a line of .121/.237/.303 to go with a dozen Ks.

SEA caplogoAs for the M's, the hot bats belong to who'd you expect: J.P. Crawford and Ty France. In his last ten games, J.P. has hit .310/.383/.405; taking it back 30 games, our favorite shortstop has a batting line of .317/.397/.463! Ty's line over his last ten is .314/.432/.571 with a pair of homers and 9 batted in; taking his line back 40 games, we get .320/.407/.484—in fact, his performance has been steadily excellent since he came off the injured list in late May (114 games), .312/.380/.472. Consistency, thy name is Tyler France. Last night's hero, Mitch Haniger, is also swinging a toasty bat, batting .293/.318/.683 over his last ten, including 16 huge RBI. He's really picked things up after an August slump to post a .908 OPS since September 1st.

On the flip side, Abraham Toro, Jake Fraley, Jarred Kelenic, Tom Murphy, and Dylan Moore are all slumping. Those five combined for a .179 average over their most recent ten games.

The M's have added a position player, promoting infielder Donovan Walton and optioning out reliever Wyatt Mills. Also, reliever Joe Smith went on the injured list and right-hander Andres Muñoz—who has been on the shelf since before Seattle acquired him in the same deal that brought France, Luis Torrens, and Taylor Trammell to the M's, recovering from Tommy John surgery—was activated off the IL and will be in the bullpen for today's finale. Muñoz, 22, can break 100mph with his fastball (at least, he could before the surgery) and impressed in his rookie year with San Diego (2019) with a 3.91 ERA in 23 relief innings.

And, as has been the norm for the past few years on the final day of the season, every game tomorrow around the Majors will be played simultaneously. So we won't know ahead of time if Boston or New York has clinched a berth or not. There will be a lot of scoreboard watching. Pertinent details:

  • Tampa Bay Rays @ New York Yankees: Go Rays, go. The AL East champs have already won the first two games in this three-game set and should the Rays sweep, the Yankees will finish with 91 wins—the same number the Mariners will have should they succeed in beating the Angels. Tampa Bay is starting right-hander Michael Wacha, who hasn't been good in several years; he's 3-5 so far in 2021 with a rather sad 5.26 ERA. But he is coming off one of his better starts, five shutout innings against the Astros, and he's owned the Yankees in previous matchups this year (1-0, 2 starts, 2.16 ERA, 0.840 WHIP, 6 BB, 23 Ks vs. Yankees in 2021). New York is countering with RHP Jameson Taillon, who left his previous start on September 28 vs. the Blue Jays with an apparent injury. He's apparently healthy enough to go today, though; the ex-Pittsburgh Pirate hasn't been particularly impressive this year (8-6, 4.40 ERA), plus he's already lost twice to Tampa Bay. The Rays have won 11 of the 18 games they've played against the Yanks so far, outscoring New York 98-49.
  • Boston Red Sox @ Washington Nationals: This one doesn't look good. Washington traded away most of its recognizable players before the trade deadline and now have only MVP candidate Juan Soto as a consistently genuine threat in their lineup. The Nats have lost seven of their last eight, including the last two to the Red Sox, and are starting a pitcher who will be making his Major League debut. Boston, on the other hand, is going with Chris Sale, a seven-time All-Star who's 6-2 with a 2.90 ERA since returning from injury in mid-August. The silver lining, if there is one, is that Sale hasn't topped 95 pitches this year and only finished six innings once. Washington's guy will be Joan Adon, a 22-year-old Dominican who has all of four games of experience (18 innings) above the Class-A level. The Nats are just looking for Adon to get his feet wet and experience a big-league crowd, they won't be expecting much from him. Fingers crossed that he turns out to be brilliant. For a day, anyway. A Boston victory would give the Red Sox the top Wild Card berth regardless of the outcome of any other game.
  • Baltimore Orioles @ Toronto Blue Jays: The least important of the games to scoreboard-watch. Toronto is in the same boat as Seattle, needing both to win and for New York and/or Boston to lose if the Jays are to stay alive; nothing that happens here can eliminate the Mariners. That said, should the Blue Jays pull off another win against the worst team in the American League, they will finish with 91 victories. Meaning, if all goes well elsewhere, all four contenders will finish the 162-game campaign with identical records and set up two Game 163s for tomorrow. The Jays are starting the 2019 Cy Young runner-up, righty Hyun-jin Ryu; though 2021 was Ryu's worst season as a big-leaguer (13-10, 4.39 ERA), he's still a top-flight pitcher with good control. He's 3-1 vs. Baltimore this year, albeit with a high 5.40 ERA. The Orioles are going with rookie southpaw Bruce Zimmerman, who has been, you know, OK. He throws a lot of pitches and hasn't completed six innings since April, but his ground-ball tendencies might work for him against Toronto's power-laden lineup. The Blue Jays have beaten the Orioles 13 out of 18 times in their season series.

It should be a fun afternoon, with the prospects of a three- or four-way tie whetting our collective appetite.

If you're out there at TMP in person, enjoy the festive atmosphere (and please, respect your fellow fans and mask up, OK? There will be irresponsible unvaccinated people there, after all). As for myself, I will have to delay my own celebrations/mournings as I will be umpiring a softball championship tourney until around 8:00pm. I'll watch after you all have had the experience. So please...no spoilers.

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