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Long ago, before the AL West had things like the Houston Astros and Albert Pujols, a popular adage was that there was nothing more boring than a Mariners/Athletics tilt. The popularity of this belief came from the truth in this belief, as yeah, those games were pretty uniformly unbearable. Neither team was any good, and worse, the two clubs were a very similar brand of drab. The pitching was generally acceptable, if not downright interesting at times, but those offenses – blegch. As a result, the standard M’s/A’s affair would last four and a half hours and feature no more than three total runs. Oh, and there were approximately seventy of these games each season, as these two teams were forced to play exclusively each other for almost half the season, if memory serves.
Then came Albert Pujols, and for a while things were the same as ever, with the Angels and Rangers occupying the division’s upper tier while the Mariners and Athletics ate their boogers. Then, sometime mid way through the 2012 campaign, something changed. The A’s started winning. They haven’t yet stopped winning, as they’ve now clinched their second consecutive division crown. Over the last two years they have been a top three team across all of MLB, yet two years ago the A’s were essentially the Mariners. This can be seen as a hopeful sign – maybe in a year or two the Mariners will be amazing! Or it can be seen as another reason to sigh and go “dammit Mariners.” One feeling this series shouldn’t make you feel is nostalgic, unless you’re some kind of sicko. M’s/A’s still has a certain gut-turning ring to it.
Oakland enters this series vying for the best record in the American League, which is a true thing being said in the last series of 2013 about a team that has used Eric Sogard as their primary second baseman. They lead Texas by six games and have the fifth-best run differential in the sport. They’ve been lead this year by two unlikely superstars: AAA journeyman third baseman Josh Donaldson, who has a 150 wRC+ and plays great defense, and Bartolo Colon, who turns one hundred years old in a few weeks I think and might get a couple of not entirely undeserved first place Cy Young votes. This is how Oakland distanced themselves from everyone else: finding value everywhere. The Athletics went through piles of players until they found the guys who had proven themselves the most capable. The Mariners stockpiled a half-dozen DHs, made them play the field, and insisted that their declining bats were (and are) the answer. Which process seems better, informed reader?
Friday’s game features Felix Hernandez, and for that reason alone it’s the most important game remaining on the Mariners schedule. Felix is our king and he’s going to end his season in front of his court. Colon takes the hill for Oakland, so yeah, a real battle of the aces, with Oakland playing for home field advantage in the playoffs and the Mariners scrambling to avoid ninety losses. Saturday’s game is Brandon Maurer versus Jarrod Parker, and if it rains there will be 5,500 tickets sold. James Paxton was supposed to start Sunday until the Mariners noticed that he’s thrown about 170 innings this year and scrapped the start, ending the rookie’s season and replacing him on the mound with Erasmo Ramirez. Oakland will throw Sonny Gray, and then the season will be over. For the Mariners. The A’s will get to play the Tigers, probably, or the Rays or Indians or Rangers (unlikely, ha) if they sweep and Boston is swept.
This is it, then. The season comes down to this, and while it’s not what we’d hoped for, it’s what we got. That’s baseball, and that’s life. Oh and by the way, the Mariners are still in position to draft sixth, with Milwaukee still in position to draft seventh. The Mariners are a game and a half worse than the Brewers and two and a half games worse than the Jays/Phillies, who are tied for the last protected pick. Barring some freaky crazy happenings, the M’s protected pick is safe. Jacoby Ellsbury, eight years and two hundred million dollars. Avert your eyes.