Man. These last few Mariners games sure have been rough. As a fan, it's hard to not feel a bit downtrodden after watching your team fall flat on their face for three consecutive games... in September... against division rivals... while fighting for a playoff berth... all the while being outscored 15-3. These are not good things. Blech.
However, despite these recent lousy outcomes, I've been heartened by the amount of resiliency that our community has (largely) been able to maintain. Although there are plenty of naysayers and doomsday proclaimers, I've seen a multitude of statements about how there's still plenty of time left and that the Mariners are still in the thick of it. I do appreciate being (realistically) optimistic about the future, but I've always found that this is easier to do when combined with the appreciation of past successes. Therefore, to try and cheer everyone up, I present to you (with minimal commentary) the Mariners Greatest Hits of 2014 (so far).
Here, I've collected the Mariners most important/successful hits this season in terms of WPA. For a refresher on WPA, you can go here. In short, you can look at a play's WPA to see how much that specific outcome either improved or decreased a team's win expectancy for that game. (It's also what's shown in the game charts that we post after ballgames.) Included below are all of the M's hits this season that have a WPA above 0.333. This cut-off is a little arbitrary (I wanted this list to include ~10 hits), but I think most people would agree that a play with a WPA above .333 is very significant. I apologize that this post is a bit long, but it's highlighting happy Mariners baseball moments, so hopefully you'll forgive me for the lack of brevity.
Disclaimer: Because WPA is highly situational, showing up on this list does not necessarily indicate great skill, just as being excluded from this list does not necessarily indicate that a player has been a bum all season. However, the players listed below were each able to do at least one great thing in one game this season. For this, they should be appreciated.
Greatest Hit #11
- Date: July 27th vs. Baltimore
- Situation: Bottom of the 8th, 2 out, none on, M's down 2-1
- Result: Mike Zunino solo home run
- WPA: +0.341
Zunino crushed this ball, tying the ballgame late against a very good Orioles team. Unfortunately, Medina would give up the game in the tenth and the Mariners would eventually lose. But, for one glimmering moment, Zunino gave the Mariners a brilliant ray of hope.
Greatest Hit #10
- Date: May 7th @ Oakland
- Situation: Top of the 10th, 2 out, two on, game tied 4-4
- Result: Justin Smoak singles, scoring Michael Saunders
- WPA: +0.342
It seems terribly fitting that Smoak's single largest individual contribution to the M's this year was a ground ball that hit off of the first baseman's glove. That being said, this "hit" did directly lead to a Mariners victory. It's nice to see Smoaky make this list; I'd almost forgotten he was on the Mariners...
Greatest Hit #9
- Date: June 8th @ Tampa Bay
- Situation: Top of the 9th, 2 out, two on, game tied 0-0
- Result: Endy Chavez singles, scoring Brad Miller
- WPA: +0.344
The fact that I had to scroll through six pages of Endy Chavez-related highlights to find this play from three months ago is absurd and wonderful and a little unsettling. Despite his overall lackluster numbers, Endy has been a not unimportant member of this club.
Greatest Hit #8
- Date: June 21st @ Kansas City
- Situation: Top of the 9th, 2 out, two on, game tied 1-1
- Result: Dustin Ackley singles, scoring Kyle Seager
- WPA: +0.347
Ackley makes his first appearance on this list (foreshadowing!) with a well-struck single to right field. This hit came in the middle of a 6 for 52 slump, but gives a brief glimpse of the powers soon to be possessed by Second Halfley.
Greatest Hit #7
- Date: June 20th @ Kansas City
- Situation: Top of the 9th, 0 out, none on, game tied 5-5
- Result: Brad Miller solo home run
- WPA: +0.350
Of all of the Mariners this season, Brad Miller's lack of production has made me the saddest. It's nice to be reminded what he's capable of. Hopefully his mini September hot streak continues and carries over into next season (or the post-season!).
Greatest Hit #6
- Date: June 3rd @ Atlanta
- Situation: Top of the 7th, 2 out, one on, game tied 5-5
- Result: John Buck two-run home run
- WPA: +0.363
I think many of us probably would've forgotten about John Buck by now, but the manner of his release stirred up a bit of controversy, and controversy is easily remembered. A supposedly offensive-minded catcher, Buck wasn't hitting, so dropping him from the roster probably shouldn't have come as a surprise. That being said, he did provide the Mariners with their sixth biggest hit of the season (and a wonderful addition to Kyle's wardrobe). Thank you, John.
Greatest Hit #5
- Date: August 31st vs. Washington
- Situation: Bottom of the 5th, 1 out, two on, M's down 1-3
- Result: Dustin Ackley three-run home run
- WPA: +0.367
This is the only hit on this list that didn't occur in the last third of the game, but it sure was important. Ackley's blast helped the Mariners avoid a home-sweep at the hands of the Nationals and began a 7-2 hot streak that would push the M's (for a time) back into the second wild card spot.
Greatest Hit #4
- Date: July 31st @ Cleveland
- Situation: Top of the 8th, 0 out, one on, M's down 4-5
- Result: Mike Zunino two-run home run
- WPA: +0.423
Mike Zunino is strong. It's nice that, unlike the past few seasons, the Mariners were the ones hitting late-inning go-ahead home runs against the Indians, as opposed to the other way around.
Greatest Hit #3
- Date: August 22nd @ Boston
- Situation: Top of the 9th, 2 out, two on, M's down 2-3
- Result: Dustin Ackley singles to score Chris Denorfia and Austin Jackson
- WPA: +0.611
I imagine that this inning probably represents the most magical inning of the season for a lot of M's fans. At one point, the Red Sox had a win expectancy of 98.8%. While Austin Jackson did have a big hit preceding Ackley's single, Dustin's bloop was the one that put the M's over the top and secured a most improbable victory.
Greatest Hit #2
- Date: April 23rd vs. Houston
- Situation: Bottom of the 9th, 1 out, two on, M's down 2-3
- Result: Kyle Seager walk-off, three-run home run to win the game!!!
- WPA: +0.677
The Mariners lone walk-off of the season, this home run from Kyle Seager dramatically ended the Mariners early eight-game losing streak. At the time, I felt like his performance in this game more or less saved their season. Looking back at this moment, I still feel that way.
Greatest Hit #1
- Date: April 27th vs. Texas
- Situation: Bottom of the 8th, 2 out, two on, M's down 3-5
- Result: Kyle Seager three-run home run
- WPA: +0.698
This was the fourth (and final) game in a row where Kyle Seager went absolutely bananas with the bat. During these four games, Seager mashed five home runs and collected 11 RBIs, ending his tear with the home run shown above. As a reminder: during the first 19 games of the season, Seager slashed .156/.280/.219. Since then, he's gone .289/.351/.499. As a Mariners fan, Kyle Seager is good for your soul.
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Somewhat surprisingly, Robinson Cano did not make this list. Although he's leading the team in season-long WPA, his single most significant hit carries a WPA of only .281. I do not make this statement to disparage Cano's contributions to the team this season; he has been a constant, seldom-yielding source of offense for the M's. They would not be where they are today if not for Cano. It's just interesting.
In writing this article, I feel as though I've uncovered some more optimism regarding the M's as we move forward. Going back and looking at all of these videos has been a lot of fun. (I hope that you've enjoyed it, too!) And hopefully the Mariners have some big hits left in them over the last 13 games. If they're going to make the post-season, they'll likely need to find a little magic.