Sports with Art Thiel
5:00 am
Fri August 15, 2014

Mariners In The Thick Of Playoff Hunt

The Mariners are in a battle with the Detroit Tigers for the second wild card playoff spot in the American League. The two teams play each other in a big weekend series in Detroit.

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says the Mariners have the upper hand in the playoff hunt, with their "historically great pitching" leading the way.

'People Getting Really Jacked'

Art says Mariner fans aren't used to their team being relevant in August.

"It's been half a generation since there's been this kind of drama around the Mariners. They've had a couple of winning seasons, but, really, it's been a very bleak period — 12 years without playoffs — and people are getting really jacked," he said. 

Joked Art: "I'm a little concerned because 10 games over .500, a fan base can start to get dizzy because the oxygen is thin. They don't quite know how to handle that elevation."

Changes And Improvements

Art sees a few keys in the Mariners recent success. First, two young veterans have stepped up their game both offensively and defensively.

"Dustin Ackley in left field and catcher Mike Zunino are really producing," Art said. "Those two have complimented four new faces in the lineup since Opening Day."

"At first base, Logan Morrison has been an upgrade over Justin Smoak. At shortstop, Chris Taylor - a rookie - has replaced two other rookies, Brad Miller and Nick Franklin, both of whom didn't perform well enough to keep the job," Art continued. "In center field, they traded for Austin Jackson, who also replaced two rookies who faded, Abraham Almonte and James Jones. At then at DH (designated hitter), the long, tortured romance to bring Kendrys Morales back to play DH has finally come through at the trading deadline. It looks like his bat is back."

Art says the Mariners "have done very, very well changing the tires on a car going 70 miles an hour."

'Historically Great Pitching'

Art says the biggest factor has been the Mariners' pitching, both starters and relievers.

"I hope Mariner fans appreciate what they're seeing here," he said. "This is historically great pitching. The team ERA (earned run average) for this season is below three runs a game. That hasn't been seen in baseball since 1989. In fact, in the American League with the DH, they haven't seen an ERA that good since 1974 with the Oakland A's. That is really special."

"It's rare to see a [starting] rotation and a bullpen do so well together simultaneously. So all the offense has to do is just even get close to what passes for Major League average these days and they become a juggernaut," Art said.

'Bullpen Is The Backbone'

According to Art, manager Lloyd McClendon said at the beginning of the year that the bullpen was the backbone.

"They added two guys: Joe Beimel, 36 years old, and Fernando Rodney, the closer, 37 years old. And those moves allowed McClendon to set the bullpen in any way he chose with righty/lefty match-ups in the game situations. And it's become almost unhittable out there," he said.

Preparing For A Tough September

Art says the Mariners have a chance to rack up a lot of wins during their nine-game road trip.

"They're playing a team on the fade this weekend. Detroit has lost 7 out of 10 with multiple pitching injuries,"he said. "Then they come up against Philadelphia — last in the National League East. They go to Boston — last in the American League East — and they come home for three against Texas —  last in the American League West.

"It's really an opportunity for the Mariners to advance their cause ahead of September," Art said. "They're trying to marshal their resources, and their successes now to take some pressure of that pennant drive that actually is probably going to happen in Seattle! Holy cow! Can you believe that?!"

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.