On the way to the airport Thursday, the thought hit me. I was on the bus with a good baseball team. I was on the bus with a good baseball team that was on its way to play meaningful baseball games in August. Games I was looking forward to seeing. This is different for all of us this time of year.
In years past I would get excited about the chance to see prospects in August and September. I was all for playing the kids because it was interesting, more interesting than stumbling to the finish with a mismatch of veterans who would not be there the next year. Prospects are still interesting and worth getting excited about, but we have something different now.
One thing that is the same is that the Mariners have the ability to be a spoiler once again this year. A spoiler, however, with more than the satisfaction of knowing that they knocked someone out of the postseason race. This time they can be a spoiler that takes a team's spot in the playoffs, a much better reward.
The Mariners have probably the toughest path to the playoffs schedule-wise, but one thing needs to be taken into consideration: the teams they are playing have to play them and I have to think that the Mariners are the team in baseball right now that no one wants to face. We hear it more and more, the pitching makes the difference. After his team got swept in Seattle, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons summed up what they faced.
"They shut down our offense stone-cold," he said. "They get to the pen and there is no let up there, either."
Pick your poison. Starter or bullpen. Both have been incredibly effective in August, allowing just 1.91 runs per game. 1.75 earned runs. The team has yet to allow more than three runs in a game this month, and with the new additions the Mariners have seen their runs scored per game jump to almost five. Since June 25 they have lost just two games in which they have scored at least four runs.
Opponents are faced with the prospect of facing the current runaway Cy Young Award leader in Felix Hernandez or perhaps last year's second runner up for the award in Hisashi Iwakuma, who has hit his stride in the last month with a 1.83 ERA over his last nine games with batters hitting just .209 against him.
How about the No. 3 starter, Chris Young? Well, good luck with that .218 batting average against. Perhaps there is a little break when facing Roenis Elias but then there is James Paxton, who is flat-out nasty when he has his command and has the added benefit of not yet having been seen by the majority of the league. It's exactly what you don't want to run into in August and September with the postseason on the line.
Take your chances with the bullpen? Well, good luck with that.
In watching this team behind the scenes, something else has become apparent. They are playing loose right now. They are enjoying the position they are in rather than feeling pressure to get anywhere. We have seen teams like this before, teams that just don't seem to know any better. They are confident and just going out and playing baseball. Teams don't want to face that team this time of the year and I think the Mariners are that team.
There are no breaks in the schedule and this roadtrip is just as important as the homestand was. There is no letup, but the Mariners appear comfortable with it. They enjoy it and you should, too.