The Next Nine Days
I’m going to make two statements about the team that are both true, even though they might seem contradictory:
1. It is too early to make any rash judgments about the quality of the team based on the first 11 games of the season.
2. The Mariners might be in trouble.
A 4-7 start isn’t the end of the world. Losing a series to the Astros doesn’t prove that the team is terrible. Michael Saunders getting injured isn’t a death blow for the franchise.
However, things are going wrong for the Mariners at the wrong time. Saunders is definitely out for the next few weeks, and Michael Morse is out for at least a few days, maybe longer. The Mariners are going to spend the next few days starting both Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez, and they’re not going to have anything resembling a real bench.
And their next nine games are against the two best teams — in my view, anyway — in the American League, and Felix is only going to start one of those nine games. This could get ugly.
The Tigers and Rangers are good teams. Let’s just say, for sake of argument, that they’re both .575 clubs, which translates to about 93 wins per full season. And maybe you were optimistic about the Mariners heading into the season, and you thought they were a .500 team. Now, though, you’re taking away Saunders and replacing him with Endy Chavez, and you’re taking away Morse and replacing him with no one. If you think those guys are both average players — it would be hard to think the Mariners were a .500 team and that both of those guys were below average — than taking them off the roster would push the team down to a .475 club, or somewhere in that range. The fact that they’re playing short-handed since Morse isn’t going on the DL is another bump down, so maybe the roster until he returns is more like a .470 club, since they have no flexibility and can’t play the match-ups with this roster.
Now, take into account that the .470 projection includes Felix throwing about 16% of the team’s innings. Over the next nine games, he’s probably going to throw about 8% of the team’s innings, so you have to move the needle down even more. With Aaron Harang or Blake Beavan filling the space, now you’re closer to a .450 club.
What are the expected outcomes when a .450 club plays nine games against a .575 club? You don’t just take the winning percentages for each team, since those are against a broad spectrum of clubs. Good teams beat bad teams more than the average, so we can use a mathematical tool called log5 to estimate the outcomes of that kind of match-up. And log5 says a that a .575 club would beat a .450 club 62.3% of the time, which rounds out to a 3-6 expected record over the next week and a half. In other words, if these estimates held, the Mariners would go to Houston on April 22nd with a 7-13 record in their first 20 games.
Baseball is a weird game. Maybe the Rangers fall on their face and the M’s take the next three and this all looks moot by Monday. We just saw the Astros pound the Mariners, and the Mariners are almost certainly a better team than the Astros. Maybe this nine game stretch won’t turn out so bad.
But, it’s not ridiculous to suggest that the Mariners could easily go 1-8 or 2-7 during this stretch either. This is a rough part of the schedule, and the Mariners are bringing a rubber knife to a gun fight. Attendance is already setting record lows, and frustration is starting to build with the fan base once again. The Mariners spent a lot of time during the spring selling hope, based mostly on the import of a few guys who could hit home runs and meaningless spring training numbers. That hope is taking a beating right now, and given what’s coming up in the next 10 days, it might get extinguished completely.
It is early, but sometimes, the story of the season is written early on. For a team with a veteran roster full of guys on one year contracts, the Mariners don’t have six months to let things get sorted out. The Mariners need to start putting some wins on the board, but now they’re going to have to get those wins with the end of the roster going up against the likes of Yu Darvish and Justin Verlander. Good luck.