The whole story, as far as we're concerned, is that the Seattle Mariners have won eight consecutive games. They beat the Indians today 3-1 to wrap up a series sweep, which followed a series sweep, which followed a series win (which followed a series win). The Mariners have also won 15 of 16 at home and 10 of 11 overall, but people don't care so much for those runs with interruptions. It's the eight-game winning streak that people have on their minds. Recently the Mariners have gone entire seasons without winning eight games so this truly is something else.
The whole story on the other side is that the Cleveland Indians have now lost eight consecutive games. Seattle couldn't care less about what's going on in Cleveland, and Cleveland couldn't care less about what's going on in Seattle. The Indians are plummeting, and it hasn't just been limited to this latest skid; they also had an 11-game losing streak between the end of July and the beginning of August. The Mariners are on fire. The Indians are in a tailspin. At the All-Star break, the Indians were nine games in front of the Mariners. Now the Mariners are six and a half games in front of the Indians. The numbers are unbelievable and we'll have a little more on this in a few moments. First, a memory.
Late last night, after the Mariners won, Dave and I exchanged a few emails. I reminded him about an email he sent me in 2006. Sometimes I forget how long Dave and I have known each other. Sometimes I forget how long I've been doing this. The 2006 Mariners were not very good - they were coming off a pair of miserable seasons, and on May 30 they dropped to 22-32, the second-worst record in the American League. That was the Mariners team that DH'd Carl Everett, in case you'd forgotten. At the end of May, they looked like they'd be the same old Mariners, before we could even say that the "same old Mariners" existed in the way that I mean.
Then the Mariners started streaking. They won three in a row, they lost, they won three in a row, they lost, and they won three in a row. Soon thereafter they won five in a row, and I think it was during a series against the Dodgers that Dave sent me a very simple email reading "this is fun, isn't it?" It was fun, in a way that I don't have to explain, since this is the same kind of fun right now and we're all actively experiencing it. Following the Mariners, at least for me, hadn't been fun like that since I'd started blogging. I hadn't been touched by success. The emotions I channeled in my writing were different from the usual emotions, those being either negativity, frustration, or something forced. A fun, sort of good Mariners team? I couldn't have dreamed it, but for a stretch in 2006, we all lived it.
Of course, the rest of the 2006 Mariners season happened in the way that you remember, and they didn't make the playoffs, and they didn't keep Shin-Soo Choo, and they didn't keep Asdrubal Cabrera. The first day of July, the Mariners climbed to two games over .500. Then there was an 11-inning game that none of us should want to talk about. After July 3 the Mariners didn't see .500 again. I remember that season about as fondly as I remember the other Bill Bavasi seasons, which is to say not at all. But, obviously, Dave's email has stuck with me all this time. There was a stretch, following years of darkness, that things were fun. Things now are fun. Maybe more fun, but maybe less fun, and maybe exactly as fun -- I can't quantify a Fun Index.
The Mariners, the rebuilding 2012 Mariners, have won eight in a row and own the best record in the American League since the All-Star break. They're putting the heat on the Angels from below, which is probably how angels usually feel. This experience is just a fun one and as lousy as I feel going back to that two-cent word over and over, it's the best word I can come up with. Last Tuesday, the Mariners won. Today, the Mariners won. In between, the Mariners won, and Felix threw a perfect game, and the Supreme Court became a thing. Writing about this team right now is like trying to transcribe hoots and howls and fist-pumps. The best way to describe my mental state is "chaotic ecstasy" and it's a challenge to string together two happy sentences without interrupting with other, different happy sentences. This is basically me apologizing for enthusiastic incoherence, not that any of us are feeling particularly coherent.
What's so exciting, and what makes this feel differently from, say, 2009, is the youth, the sense that the Mariners are actually building to something, and that we might right now have a lot of the right pieces in place. There are holes that could be filled after the season, sure, but look at what this team is doing right now, and look at how many of them will remain under club control. One would then be cautioned to recall the 2006 experience. That team had at least some elements of youth, and it didn't build. You never know what the destination will end up being ahead of time, and it could be anything from last place to a championship. It's easy to feel positive right now, because there's little reason not to. When you feel positive, it's easy to feel really really positive.
And here's where I'll introduce a note on quality of competition. The purpose here is not to be a buzzkill; it's just to be honest. The Mariners just swept an Indians team that is dreadful. Before that, the Mariners swept a Twins team that is also pretty bad. Since the break, the Mariners have won seven of eight against the Royals, and you might recall some of the pitchers the Mariners were seeing in those series. The Mariners have beat up on the AL Central, and the AL Central is not good. At least, not the bits that the Mariners just rolled through. They'll face a more challenging bit this weekend.
The Indians have the worst run differential in baseball, assuming the Astros are actually a PCL team playing a prank, and the Mariners barely beat them today, and the Mariners barely beat them on Monday. Hell, the Mariners barely beat them yesterday, too. This was a sweep of a bad team, and all three games were close. This all has to be a consideration.
But wins are wins, and even adjusting for competition, the Mariners have been successful. It's not the Mariners' fault that the schedule has been favorable, and in those situations the best thing you can do is to win a lot. Monday, the Indians scored just three runs. Tuesday, they might've been shut out but for a double-play grounder taking a funny bounce. Wednesday, they might've been shut out but for an accidental Casey Kotchman swinging bunt. The Mariners had a hard time scoring, but the Indians had a real hard time scoring, and at few points in this series was there ever a sense of doom.
Today's game was straight-up relaxing, in part because it was a Wednesday matinee in the sunshine. Michael Saunders ripped a solo shot in the bottom of the first inning and things just kind of stayed like that for a while. Neither side seemed particularly interested in spoiling the dynamic. The Indians bunted into an awkward double play in the second. They grounded into another double play in the third, and another in the fourth. They went down 1-2-3 in the fifth. The Mariners weren't doing anything at all against Zach McAllister while all the rest of this was going on, but they probably didn't feel a real sense of urgency, because these Indians seemed far less threatening than previous editions of the Indians that the Mariners have run into.
Even the run the Indians scored in the sixth seemed like it was scored against the Indians' will. Choo walked when a 2-and-2 splitter could've been called for strike three. Carlos Santana singled, but the single was actually a towering pop-up that just came down in the right place behind short. Gameday describes it as a single "on a pop up to shortstop Brendan Ryan." In a big spot, Michael Brantley struck out on a pitch at his eyes, though the runners did advance. I'll grant that the Indians did that for themselves.
But then Casey Kotchman faced Oliver Perez and barely made contact. Kotchman's contact was so shitty that his contact was perfect. Kyle Seager just had to watch a ball roll slowly towards him, never hooking foul. Kotchman is no stranger to weak groundballs. This one was so weak that it was successfully weak.
And that was how the Indians scored. They wouldn't score again. Two batters later, with two on and two out, Jack Hannahan whiffed at a full-count slider well out of the zone. The Indians didn't want to score in that inning at all. They just kind of did, and everyone was flummoxed.
And then the game continued, into the seventh and into the eighth. Stephen Pryor got out of trouble in the eighth. Vinnie Pestano did not. Kyle Seager doubled on what was actually a groundball single + hustle + awesome slide, and John Jaso got intentionally walked, and one thing led to another and Pestano faced Eric Thames with two on and two out. Vinnie Pestano is fantastically good against right-handed hitters. Eric Thames is a left-handed hitter, and Pestano let a 1-and-0 fastball get up. Thames would say later that he remembered having faced Pestano before, and he remembered what his fastball looks like. The fastball Thames got was ripped on a line into right, and just like that nobody cared that Eric Thames came up 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. This is the kind of weird stuff that happens in any winning streak, and this is why fans of teams on winning streaks feel like the teams are unbeatable. Because during the streak, the team looks legitimately unbeatable. You start to think the team has a knack for performance in the clutch, when, whatever. We don't need to sit here and talk about the sustainability of an eight-game winning streak. We can appreciate Eric Thames deploying his one hit of the day at the absolute perfect time.
Two runs scored, and Tom Wilhelmsen hasn't allowed two runs since May 23, before he was the closer. A runner got on and the runner was left stranded. Although not really since immediately after the final out the runner returned to be with his teammates. No baserunner has ever actually been left stranded on base. That would be a very forlorn thing.
Hisashi Iwakuma was good. The Mariners' bullpen was good. The Mariners' offense was just good enough. While the Mariners have the AL's best record since the break, over that span they've averaged just over four runs scored a game. It's a 657-run full-season pace they've been on, which is barely higher than the pace they were on before the break. What's happened is that the Mariners have gone from allowing some runs to not really allowing any runs. They're succeeding in the way they tried to succeed in seasons recently past. There's no salvaging those seasons, but at least we know it can work.
We know that the Mariners can work. We don't know if they will, but they've given us reason to believe. Most of the times we've believed before, it's blown up in our faces and left a few scars, but those times have little to do with this time. I hope. I really don't need more scars on my face.