The Seattle Mariners have emerged as one of the hottest teams in baseball, boasting not only one of the best records in the AL, but also the best record in the entirety of baseball since the start of the second half of the season. Reflecting back on the opening month of play, the Mariners averaged 4.3 runs per game. However, in August, their average has surged by over a run to 5.4 runs per inning. Currently, they trail the first-place Texas Rangers in the AL West by just three games and are holding onto the third place Wild Card position for the MLB playoffs. As they enter the final stretch towards this year's playoffs, what should be the Mariners' areas of concern?
Peaking at the wrong time
On July 1, the Mariners held a 39-42 record in the AL West, lagging 10 games behind the first-place Rangers. At that point, many had likely dismissed their playoff prospects. Despite having strong pitching, they struggled to generate runs, and their young star Julio Rodriguez was not performing anywhere near his level from the previous year or his current impressive streak. A surge was desperately needed. The AL West has been fiercely competitive throughout the season, featuring the offensively potent Rangers and last year's World Series champions, the Houston Astros. Additionally, contending with the once-promising Los Angeles Angels and Shohei Ohtani presented further challenges. Could the Mariners have peaked too early?
In sports, timing is everything – including when to peak and when not to. Expending all your momentum prematurely can hinder your performance in the playoffs. The Mariners must demonstrate that their young pitching and offense can carry them not only through the remainder of the regular season but also into October, where the game dynamics fundamentally change. Fortunately, Seattle gained playoff experience last season, providing them with a valuable asset.
Strength of schedule
Currently engaged in a three-game series against the Chicago White Sox, the Mariners are then set to encounter three last-place teams consecutively: the Oakland Athletics, Kansas City Royals, and the New York Yankees. Following these matchups, the Mariners will face a blend of potential playoff contenders in the Cincinnati Reds (3), Tampa Bay Rays (4), Angels (3), Los Angeles Dodgers (3), Rangers (7), and Astros (3).
The Angels, currently trailing by 8.5 games for the last Wild Card spot, seem the least likely to secure a playoff berth among this group. Next in line is the Reds, who hover near the final NL Wild Card spot. Among these, a significant challenge awaits in the form of a three-game series against the Dodgers, the only team with a better record than the Mariners since the second half commenced. The Dodgers have maintained an impressive streak, rendering this series pivotal for Seattle. The last 10 games are exclusively divisional contests against the two teams that have fiercely competed for the division title all season: the Rangers and the Astros.
Fortuitously for the Mariners, their strength of schedule isn't the most arduous, though it remains demanding. The Rangers face the most grueling stretch, with their opponents boasting a .516 winning percentage, as per FanGraphs. The Mariners have second toughest with their opponents having a .498 winning percentage.
Given the tightening race in this division due to the Mariners' resurgence, these final 10 games could be intense nail-biters. Seattle's starting pitching is poised to challenge both rivals, likely boasting a stronger rotation than the Rangers, even with Scherzer now on board. However, contending with the Astros' formidable offense and pitching will pose considerable difficulties. Presently, the Mariners hold a 59.4 percent chance of securing a playoff berth.