The Seattle Mariners were able to avoid sweeping the Cleveland Indians yesterday, registering only two hits while somehow managing to be completely embarrassed by Shaun Marcum, of all people. Despite their insistence on not taking three of three from a pretty similar-caliber opponent, they managed to have a somewhat inspiring series overall. Now it’s off to Houston to take on the Astros, who are still in first place since the world is still a weird, weird place.
Felix Hernandez gets the start today against Brett Oberholtzer, who, like most of the Astros, is having a better season than you thought he would. But the focus isn’t on Oberholtzer – all eyes are on Carlos Correa, the former number one overall pick who’s skyrocketed through Houston’s farm system en route to a revelatory first week in the bigs. He draws Felix tonight. It’s a matchup to watch. The matchup to watch.
But there’s more to this than just a super prospect getting his first taste of the division’s best pitcher. This is about the old and the new, what’s working and what isn’t working. This is the M’s model versus the ‘Stros model. It’s an all-time great pitcher who’s been here forever against the most recent in a wave of young guns who have turned the game’s worst team into one of the best overnight.
The season is two and a half months old, and the AL West still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Seattle is the only team with a negative run differential, and they’ve pretty much played like it all season. Oakland has by far the AL’s worst record, though they’ve got plenty of positives up and down their roster. The Rangers are suddenly resurgent. The Angels are still struggling. And the Astros, despite a seven-game losing streak, still have first place by two and a half games.
The West is a paracosm of the parity that can be seen all over the AL. It’s been an obviously weird season, and no matter where this series goes the result will be the same: weirdness. What if Correa (or any Astro, really) lights Felix up tonight? Whacky! If Felix can contain Houston and they lose again, then the race to the middle continues at it’s current blazing pace. All fifteen teams in this league are going to finish .500. Doesn’t it just feel that way?
This would be a pretty huge series for the Mariners to win, of course. Always is, especially as long as they continue to hang out under .500 in an increasingly narrow AL West. The division is more and more winnable with every passing day, as the good teams sink and the bad teams swim. Because for all their early-season winning, the Astros and Rangers still don’t seem like great bets to keep this up all year. Just like the Angels and Mariners (and A’s, even) don’t seem as bad as they’ve been.
What a weird division. What a weird place the Mariners find themselves in. In one corner, Felix Hernandez, trying to will his way to that ever-elusive top of the division. In the other corner, Carlos Correa, the new face of the youth uprising, trying to hold onto what’s unexpectedly his. This should be a fun, nerve-wracking series, which means we still care. It’s not every June that we get to say that.