The size, shape, and other characteristics of the mountain ahead
I don’t know a reasonable M’s fan that doesn’t look at this next series without realizing its importance. Three games against the Angels, 4.5 back, could be a season-breaker, and we’ve drawn:
Batista vs Colon
Feierabend v Santana
Felix v Good Weaver
There’s another way to get into the playoffs, but right now it looks a lot harder – Detroit and Cleveland have both played .600 baseball so far, and Detroit hasn’t even dropped one of their poorer starters for Andrew Miller yet, which is crazy to contemplate. The M’s aren’t as far back in the wild card as they are in the division race, but in the division race they only have to catch one team (right now) while in the wild card race two really good teams have to collapse while Chicago stumbles (and New York doesn’t wake up and run off a 10-game winning streak).
Focus on the division, then. I’ll re-use a comment from Typical Idiot Fan on yesterday’s game thread:
[...] The difference is really in the runs allowed area. Anaheim has allowed only 199 runs to score against them in 51 games, or 3.9 per game. Seattle has allowed 224 in 46 games, or 4.8 per game.
Seattle RSPG – 4.8, RAPG – 4.8
Anaheim RSPG – 4.6, RAPG – 3.9
Oakland RSPG – 4.5, RAPG – 3.8
Texas RSPG – 5.0, RAPG – 5.7
By all logical reasoning, Oakland should be right there with Anaheim but theyâ€™re not. Oakland should probably improve in the W/L column soon enough as things start to even out. Seattle, meanwhile, is one big lefty bat and one good starting pitcher away from making some serious strides.
If it keeps up for the rest of the year, the Angels could easily wind up ten games up on the M’s. I don’t think the Angels are a .600 team, but they don’t have to be. They only have to stay ahead of the M’s. Vlad Guerrero could decide to retire tomorrow and it’d still be a toss-up if the M’s could catch them.
But to the question at hand: what does it take to compete, to take use this early luck and turn it into sustained contention? The team, to be overly simplistic, has a couple of huge, obvious holes:
- they’re too right-handed
- Sexson has sucked, but if he’s really just always a slow starter, that’ll resolve
- Ill offensive production from Lopez/Ibanez
- Starters 3-5 suck
There are other issues (Betancourt’s eye-popping defensive woes, for instance) but that’s the big stuff.
There’s not a lot to be done about the offense – when you can’t find a spot for Adam Jones, well, you’ve got some team construction issues.
The argument about the rotation is that we’ve seen a lot of Weaver, and now that Baek’s here, things are greatly improved. We’ll see how Baek does over an extended period, but even if he’s a solid back-of-the-rotation guy, right now any pick-two of Weaver/Batista/Ramirez means you’ve picked two crappy starters. There’s no way around it: they’re pitching terribly.
Possibly that skews any runs scored/allowed analysis. If there are two major league starters in the rotation and the 3-5 guys get shelled and chased out of games early (that group’s average start goes five innings), it doesn’t really matter if the offense is cracking along, because they’ll need to score 7, 9 runs to win. Plus the bullpen has to pick up a lot of innings, and there are secondary issues from that as well, but here’s my point — as much as the M’s operate at an advantage when Felix starts, they’re giving that away and then some a couple times a week. They turn average offensive players into a lineup of — well, Johjima’s not a bad comparison, actually.
Some comments noted that the team’s a lot like some of the mid-90s M’s teams, and while I might quibble with it, I think it’s a useful because it does convey some of the feel of this team. There’s a really good starter, someone behind him, and then you’d watch the other games with one eye open, wincing.
You can, as we’ve seen, make it to the playoffs with that. But Felix has to be great, Washburn has to be good, Sexson needs to start to hit, the bullpen needs to put up with being stretched frequently, and nothing else can go seriously wrong.
The challenge is that much less has to go right for the Angels for them to survive, and in many ways, they’re a lot better built for Stoneman to go make a move to improve the offense than the M’s, who need a left-handed bat and can’t get one.
And, of course, we neglect the A’s, who if history holds will shuffle some more pieces around and then come out of the All-Star break to rip off a 81-game winning streak to finish the season. It’d be nice, as an M’s fan, if they didn’t do that this year.
If the M’s get swept, they’re toast, because at that point it’s extremely unlikely they could make up that deficit.
If the M’s sweep, they’ve got a reasonable shot at it, but it’ll be quite a haul.
Batista starts the first game of the series tonight.