The Oakland Athletics are the best team in baseball. You could debate that, but you probably shouldn’t. By ERA they’re first in the AL and second in MLB to the Nationals. They have the best offense in the game, as indicated by their 112 wRC+. Even their fielding is seventh-best in baseball. They’ve won more games than any other team, have lost fewer games than any other team, and have the same run differential as the second place team times three. They’re the best. But what’s really debatable is who’s number two.
San Francisco gets mentioned a lot, but they were obviously overperforming from the start and are currently mired in a cold stretch. Milwaukee is the other seemingly-obvious pick, though they’re still a hard team to believe in. The Angels are excellent this year, but holes on the pitching staff make them a shaky pick. And besides, none of those teams have the second-best run differential in the game. That distinction belongs to the Seattle Mariners.
Last night the Mariners drubbed the defending champion Boston Red Sox 12-3 on Felix Day at Safeco Field. Felix Hernandez, despite not having his best stuff, went seven innings while allowing only two runs. He struck out six, didn’t walk a soul, and allowed only two extra base hits – a double and a homer, both off the bat of Mike Napoli. The offense backed the ace by shredding John Lackey and Chris Capuano. The M’s won by nine and pushed their run differential to second-best in the game. Not just the AL, but in all of baseball. The M’s have a better differential than every member of the National League, and thirteen members of the American League.
First, some more about this game. It was bonkers, of course, with Logan Morrison leading the parade with an insane day in which he homered twice, singled twice, and walked. Kyle Seager had a double and two singles. Robinson Cano had a double and a single. Endy Chavez had a triple and a single. The M’s plated six in the fourth and four in the seventh. There’s an offense “clicking,” and then there’s an offense going into full-on kill mode and absolutely ravaging a really good pitcher. The Red Sox lead all of MLB in pitching WAR. They still do, but by less than they did yesterday.
So are the M’s the second-best team in baseball? By one measure, yes. But it’s important to note that they’re only in third place in their own division. It’s important to note that they’re not even in playoff position, as the Baltimore Orioles have a fraction of a percent of a lead on them for the second wild card. Only three teams in baseball have allowed fewer runs than Seattle, but sixteen have scored more. A middle-of-the-pack offense and elite defense is a good team, but not necessarily the second-best in all of baseball.
What the Mariners are, clearly, is a better team than the Boston Red Sox. Many picked the Red Sox as repeat World Series champs, or at least participants, while the M’s were pretty much a consensus fourth place finisher. There’s no guarantee that Boston won’t go on a crazy tear, just as there’s no guarantee Texas continues to suck and the M’s keep up whatever it is that they’re doing. The Red Sox won the World Series last year, and now they can’t beat the Mariners, because they are bad and the Mariners are good. That’s why we like baseball.