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What Needs to Happen to Get the Mariners to the Playoffs

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It’s simple: just win baby.

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With their four-game sweep of the A’s this week, the Mariners moved to 84-69 on the season and just two games back in the Wild Card race with just nine games left to play. FanGraphs gives the Mariners a 5.1% chance of making the playoffs; FiveThirtyEight has 8% odds. Both of those projection systems assume that the team to claim the second Wild Card spot in the American League will need to win 91 games. Let’s take a look at what the Mariners need to do to get to that point, and what needs to happen with the AL East teams in the race.

It’s actually pretty simple, the Mariners need to pull off a Cardinals-style win streak to finish the season. Here’s Seattle’s remaining schedule:

Mariners Remaining Schedule

Date Opponent Mariners Starter Opposing Starter
Date Opponent Mariners Starter Opposing Starter
9/24 @LAA RHP Logan Gilbert LHP José Suarez
9/25 @LAA LHP Tyler Anderson RHP Jaime Barría
9/26 @LAA LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Shohei Ohtani
9/27 OAK RHP Chris Flexen LHP Cole Irvin
9/28 OAK LHP Yusei Kikuchi RHP Chris Bassitt
9/29 OAK RHP Logan Gilbert RHP Frankie Montas
10/1 LAA LHP Tyler Anderson LHP José Suarez
10/2 LAA LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Jaime Barría
10/3 LAA RHP Chris Flexen TBD

To get to 91 wins, the Mariners need to win seven of their last nine games. That means winning every one of their series and sweeping at least one of them. Against the Angels in Los Angeles, the game that will likely prove to be the toughest challenge will be Sunday’s start against Shohei Ohtani. They can afford to lose that game if necessary.

When the Mariners return home next week, the A’s will lineup Chris Bassitt and Frankie Montas in the second and third game of that series. Bassitt will likely be limited to five innings at the maximum — if they let him start in the first place. Montas will be another tough matchup; he’s posted a 2.43 ERA/2.74 FIP since the All-Star break and has been the A’s best starter during the second half. One of those games is the last game the Mariners can reasonably afford to lose.

In the final series of the year, the Angels six-man rotation means the same three starters are likely to pitch on that last weekend of the season. Angels manager Joe Maddon had indicated that he had considered shutting down Ohtani from pitching a week ago due to a sore elbow. Nevertheless, he made a start against Oakland last Sunday and is the announced starter for this Sunday. If he makes one final start on the last Sunday of the season, he could be what stands between the Mariners and a date with 91 wins and a potential postseason berth.

The Mariners mission is clear: just win. The highest number of wins they could accumulate if they win out is 93; that would likely earn them a playoff slot. But they’ll also need some help from their AL East rivals. The Red Sox lead the Wild Card race with a two-game advantage over the Yankees. They have a significant advantage over the other teams chasing a playoff slot; their remaining schedule is pretty favorable. After a weekend series at home against the Yankees, they travel to Baltimore and Washington to finish off the season. Barring anything weird happening this weekend, it’s more than likely they’ll be the first Wild Card team in the AL this year.

That leaves the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Mariners vying for the second Wild Card spot. FanGraphs has the Yankees playoff odds at 56.1% with the Blue Jays sitting at 41.2%, essentially a coin flip between the two AL East teams. FiveThirtyEight agrees, but flips the favorability to Toronto (51% to 46%).

Here’s the Yankees remaining schedule:

Yankees Remaining Schedule

Date Opponent Yankees Starter Opposing Starter
Date Opponent Yankees Starter Opposing Starter
9/24 @BOS RHP Gerrit Cole RHP Nathan Eovaldi
9/25 @BOS LHP Néstor Cortes Jr. RHP Nick Pivetta
9/26 @BOS LHP Jordan Montgomery LHP Eduardo Rodriguez
9/28 @TOR RHP Corey Kluber LHP Steven Matz
9/29 @TOR RHP Gerrit Cole RHP José Berríos
9/30 @TOR LHP Néstor Cortes Jr. LHP Robbie Ray
10/1 TBR LHP Jordan Montgomery LHP Shane McClanahan
10/2 TBR TBD RHP Shane Baz
10/3 TBR RHP Corey Kluber RHP Drew Rasmussen

Of all the teams in the playoff chase, the Yankees have by far the hardest remaining schedule. After their weekend series in Boston, they’ll travel to Toronto to face the team directly behind them in the standings and then wrap up the season against Tampa Bay. To get to 91 wins, the Yankees need to win five of their remaining nine games. That means they need to win one of their remaining series and avoid getting swept in the other two. Despite sweeping the Rangers earlier this week, they hadn’t really been playing all that well in September against inferior opponents. They’ll have their work cut out for them against the best teams in the AL East.

Even though both Luis Severino and Domingo Germán were just activated from the Injured List earlier this week, the Yankees rotation is a little short-handed. Néstor Cortes Jr. has been pressed into regular duty — and to be fair, he been pretty good as a starter — but even with the Monday off-day, they have an open slot in their rotation they’ll have to fill against the Rays on that last weekend of the season. Their opponent’s rotations are all lined up so that their best starters are starting against them too.

If the Yankees win seven of their remaining nine, a tiebreaking Game 163 would be the best the Mariners could hope to accomplish if they won all nine of their remaining games. That’s pretty unlikely to happen. I think the Yankees will end up winning four of their last nine and fall just short of the second Wild Card spot.

That leaves the Blue Jays, one of the hottest teams in baseball in September.

Blue Jays Remaining Schedule

Date Opponent Blue Jays Starter Opposing Starter
Date Opponent Blue Jays Starter Opposing Starter
9/24 @MIN RHP José Berríos RHP Bailey Ober
9/25 @MIN LHP Robbie Ray TBD
9/26 @MIN RHP Alex Manoah RHP Griffin Jax
9/28 NYY LHP Steven Matz RHP Corey Kluber
9/29 NYY RHP José Berríos RHP Gerrit Cole
9/30 NYY LHP Robbie Ray LHP Néstor Cortes Jr.
10/1 BAL RHP Alex Manoah LHP John Means
10/2 BAL LHP Steven Matz RHP Chris Ellis
10/3 BAL RHP José Berríos LHP Keegin Akin

The Blue Jays started off a four-game series in Minnesota with a loss yesterday evening. That dropped them to one game behind the Yankees and one game ahead of the Mariners. To get to 91 wins, they need to win six of their remaining nine games. Luckily, they host the dreadful Orioles for three-game during the last weekend of the season. Let’s assume they sweep that final series. That gives them enough wiggle room to lose this series in Minnesota, win their series against the Yankees and still get to 91 wins. If they end up splitting against the Twins, that puts them on track to win 92 games, making the Mariners job that much harder to accomplish.

They’ve lost three of their last four games but before this little slump, they had won 15 of 18 to start September. They do have to face the best of the Yankees rotation and John Means of the Orioles so there will be some difficult matchups they’ll have to overcome.

Winning eight of their last nine games would put the Blue Jays at 93 wins, a mark that’s within the plausible realm of possibilities considering their remaining matchups and schedule. I think they’ll end up winning six of their remaining games and hit that 91 win mark on the nose.

Rooting Guide

This weekend (September 24–26)

We’re rooting for the Twins and Red Sox this weekend. If you want maximum chaos, you could choose to root for the Yankees to make everything that much closer in the Wild Card race heading into the last week of the season, but rooting for the Red Sox is a much simpler proposition.

Next week (September 28–30)

Depending on what happens in Boston over the weekend, we’re probably rooting for the Yankees against the Blue Jays. Toronto has the easier path to 91 wins so the more losses they rack up, the harder that path gets, even if it means the Yankees path to 91 wins gets easier. We’re also rooting for the Orioles against the Red Sox, but it’s likely that series doesn’t matter as much.

Next weekend (October 1–3)

We’re rooting for the Orioles again (the Mariners are huge bird fans I guess). We’re also hoping that the Rays have something to play for during this last weekend — perhaps battling for the top seed in the AL against the Astros.

With everyone in the Wild Card race aiming for 91 wins, it’s possible there will be a game 163 for two or three teams in the Wild Card race. For the lowdown on how the tiebreaking system works, Jay Jaffe has been writing up his Team Entropy series for the last few years for FanGraphs. It’s a must read if you’re at all interested in what would happen if there were a three- or four-way tie for the second Wild Card spot.