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Mariners Hand Angels A Loss Most Inconvenient

Lisa Blumenfeld - Getty Images

Yesterday night, the Mariners lost to the Angels, so the Mariners did nothing to damage the Angels' odds of making the playoffs. It was a bit of a bummer that the Mariners couldn't play spoiler against a team most of us don't like at all, but I elected to downplay that angle and highlight the performances of Miguel Olivo, Justin Smoak, and Felix Hernandez. It wasn't about spoiling; it was about taking something of substance out of the nine innings, favorable outcome or no. There was enough in there, and spoiling won't sate your appetite for long.

Thursday afternoon, the Mariners beat the Angels, so the Mariners did something to damage the Angels' odds of making the playoffs. This time I'm going to choose to highlight the spoiler angle, and if you're wondering how I can in good conscience flip-flop overnight, the answer is jurisprudence. I don't actually remember what "jurisprudence" means, but we're in America so I'm going to assume none of you remember what it means either, and it sounds like a suitable word when I pronounce it in my head. Pro tip to current and aspiring sports bloggers: if you have opinions, you don't actually have to stick by them, because nobody has any memory on the Internet. It seems like the opposite should be true but look around you, then try to remember how this sentence began. Science, bitches.

The Angels woke up today two games behind the A's in the wild card race with seven games to go. Also they were two and a half games behind the Orioles, but the Orioles were off Thursday and the A's were closer. According to the numbers the Angels had roughly a one-in-four or a one-in-five shot at making the playoffs. And that was before they started watching the out-of-town scoreboard.

An hour and a half before the Angels started playing the Mariners, the A's started playing the Rangers, and Oakland fell behind 5-0 in the first. It was 5-0 after one, 6-1 after two, 7-2 after three, and 9-4 after four. The Angels started their game knowing they had a great chance of gaining ground with a win, and sure enough, while the A's attempted a late rally, they still fell short by two. The Angels saw that the A's had lost, and the Angels' fans saw that the A's had lost. The Angels had a chance to cut the deficit in half, and all they had to do was beat the last-place Mariners. The same last-place Mariners they'd already beaten ten times, and the last-place Mariners without Felix Hernandez.

The Angels had won five games in a row, and it's a funny thing that happens psychologically at a time like this. You build confidence, which can turn into overconfidence, in that you just don't believe you can lose. The Angels certainly figured they were being given a glorious chance, and more than a few Angels fans, I'm sure, assumed the win over the Mariners before it was official. The Angels would take care of business against a last-place team. All they needed was for the team in front of them to lose, and that team was already on its way to a loss.

The Angels played most of their game knowing that Oakland had lost to Texas. They played most of their game knowing that they could go to bed just one game out with enough games to go. The Angels took an early lead against the Mariners, and then after the Mariners pulled out in front, the Angels struck right back. I'm watching the highlight clip right now of Alberto Callaspo singling home Kendrys Morales in the bottom of the fourth. The crowd erupted. People who root for teams in the Angels' position like to believe that their team is a team of destiny, and many Angels fans surely believed their team is destined to make the playoffs. Callaspo's RBI blooper was just another sign that the Angels had no quit, and that the Angels were on the right path to pulling this off.

The Mariners pulled back ahead in the fifth, and they pulled way ahead in the seventh. After the Angels tried to make it interesting by narrowing the score in the bottom of the eighth, the Mariners took advantage of an ugly error and restored their five-run lead in the top of the ninth. After the Angels and their fans saw that Oakland had lost, the Angels lost to the Mariners by five. This was the Angels' final home game of the regular season. It might have been the Angels' final home game of the season. It ended with Torii Hunter and Albert Pujols striking out swinging, and with the audience having fallen deathly silent, aside from the occasional groan. "Don't worry about that, Timmy, that's just gas escaping."

If the Mariners could win only one game in this series, then from the spoiling perspective, this was the game to win. This was the most satisfying game to win, in that this was the most emotionally devastating game for the Angels to lose. They don't get to end at home on a high note, and they lost knowing that a win could've made up half the ground they need to gain. If the Mariners had won, say, the first game of this series instead, the Angels would be in the same position today, but they'd feel better about things. They'd feel like they had a little momentum. By doing things this way, the Mariners let the Angels and their fans think about being just one game back -- a deficit that can be erased in a day -- and then they pulled the rug out from under them. The Angels are still two games back, which means they're at least two days back, with six days left.

According to Cool Standings, the Angels' playoff odds this morning were about 22 percent. Now they're about 15 percent. I don't know what they would've been had the Angels won instead, but I can only presume they would've been much much higher. In the win-expectancy charts, we refer to the change in win expectancy after a play as win probability added. I calculate the cost of an error as the difference between the resulting win expectancy and what the win expectancy would've been had the defensive play been made cleanly. The difference between the Angels' playoff probability now and what the Angels' playoff probability could've been is enormous. And that's all thanks to the Mariners, and, partially, the Angels too.

At first, my written enthusiasm over the Mariners having hurt the Angels was going to be tempered by concern over the health of Franklin Gutierrez. Not just general, everyday concern, which would be perfectly warranted, but concern regarding a specific incident. See, Franklin Gutierrez took it upon himself to do this in the bottom of the fifth:


Gutierrez was visited by the trainers, and while he finished the half-inning, he was subsequently removed. No explanation was given until well after the conclusion of the game, and I didn't know if Gutierrez had concussed himself or really fucked up his wrist. When Franklin Gutierrez is out and you don't know why, it's reasonable to assume that at least part of his body is dying. This seemed like just the latest freak thing that would for Franklin Gutierrez be a major setback.

But Gutierrez says that he's fine, having just jammed his wrist a little. He was removed after feeling a bit of dizziness, but everything's all clear now, so Gutierrez says. So there's nothing significant to worry about, unless the dizziness was a symptom of rapid-onset brain cancer caused by the collision with the fence. See, cancer is caused by damaged cells, and when Gutierrez ran into the wall the impact could've caused cell damage. I've been doing this a long time and I took a semester of neuroscience so you should probably consider me an authority figure.

Since Gutierrez seems to be okay, in the end this is just a good Mariners win. The Mariners won by a lot, over a hated division rival fighting for its collective playoff life. Boy wonder Mike Trout finished the series 2-for-11, hitting the fly ball that Franklin Gutierrez tracked down above. Hisashi Iwakuma didn't walk anybody over six effective innings against a very dangerous lineup, and he didn't allow a single dinger. Tom Wilhelmsen threw some awesome curveballs. Justin Smoak hit another ball hard, Jesus Montero hit a couple balls hard, Kyle Seager hit some balls hard, and John Jaso doubled and homered. The double was just a groundball off the unathletic Kendrys Morales' glove, but the homer was not, because that would be strange. Jaso has now homered ten times in 2012, after homering a combined ten times in 2010-2011. His OPS stands at .853 and there's not a single sign that his productivity is a fluke. The Mariners acquired their best hitter by giving up Josh Lueke. Lueke posted a triple-A ERA this year of 5.59 and he pitched in all of three games in the majors.

What the Mariners guaranteed today is that, at the very least, they won't lose 90 times. Now they'll play three against the A's before closing with three more against the Angels. It is perfectly conceivable that the Angels will be eliminated from playoff contention at Safeco Field. While I understand that spoiling is basically garlic bread while contending yourself is more of a main dish, garlic bread is fuckin delicious.