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The Mariners have a chance – right now – to get back in the heart of the AL West race

Ezra Shaw

To many people, that headline sounds ridiculous. Hell, it feels a little ridiculous to write. There's no question, the Oakland Athletics are the best team in baseball. What they've done to this point is unbelievable, as their +131 run differential tells most of the tale—and the fact that their Pythagorean record says they actually should've won more games gets you most of the rest of the way there.

And it isn't fluky either. This isn't black magic. The A's are talented, certainly more talented than the Mariners.

But that doesn't mean this thing is over. That doesn't mean the Mariners can't hang, can't compete with the A's over a sustained period of time. And you want to know how I know? Why I'm certain it's at least possible for the Mariners to go toe-to-toe with the game's best?

Because they've done it.

Since April 23rd, the A's have gone 38-25. That's the second-best record over that span. First? Your Seattle Mariners, at 39-25. Yeah, that extra game helps—it helps when you win it. And that's what the Mariners have been doing a lot of lately, winning games. They've actually won nine of eleven, helped largely by a soft spot in their schedule—one that allowed them to post the bigs' best June run differential.

This soft schedule is something we've known about for some time, and have covered here on the site. Back then, the day before that was published—June 4th, following the two-game sweep of the Braves—I noted that the next time the Mariners would play a team that'd be in the playoffs if the season ended then would be July 11th, against the A's.

Now that series—one that will wrap up the first half before we head into the All-Star Break—isn't so far out. It's right around the corner, and people are starting to talk about it. But before we get there, are we all on the same page with regards to what stands between now and then, not just for the Mariners—but the Athletics as well?

Here, a look:

Seattle Oakland
7/2 @HOU @DET
7/4 @CHW TOR
7/5 @CHW TOR
7/6 @CHW TOR
7/7 MN SF
7/8 MN SF
7/9 MN @SF
7/10 MN @SF

Nearly polar opposites. And if you haven't noticed, the Athletics already lost their last two. They're looking to stave off a sweep today, after having this happen in the series' first game:

It's hard to suffer a more demoralizing defeat than having your previously-immortal closer give up a walk-off grand salami.

I don't mean to get out ahead of things, ahead of us. There's a long ways to go, but the Oakland Athletics are not without flaws. There are cracks that are starting to show, even if they are small ones.

Again, there's so much baseball left to be played, and the best the Mariners can hope for right now is seizing the opportunity to make up a couple more games and turn that looming series into something special, something we haven't seen at Safeco Field in a long time.

The Mariners stand five and a half games back. That's not far removed from first place—but it isn't close either. But still, if you've been paying any attention to baseball lately, you know how quickly those division leads can go.

Right now, the Mariners just need to make it close.

We've talked on this site before about the second wild card, and how it creates a situation where a very good team could end up in a one-game playoff while an inferior division leader skips ahead to a five-game ALDS series. Well, the other side of the debate is that it sets up some epic pennant races. That's why we have the unbalanced schedule, why the Mariners play almost no one but AL West teams in the season's final month.

That's been looming out there for a long time. The Mariners have to play some good teams, but here's the thing—the Mariners are a good team, and the team's they're chasing have to play them. The way it sets up, it could be something special—or it could be total heartbreak.

There's no telling which way it will go, but all the Mariners can do now is gives themselves a chance.

And right now, as they're riding high during a season as good as any as we've seen in years, they'd be wise to heed to the wisdom of one Jay Buhner.

"Screw the wild card, we're going for the division."