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How To Win the Wild Card

It's surprisingly hard not to be excited about the Mariners right now. It is a nice change of pace from the previous decade or so. Whispers of "refuse to lose" are slipping out - timid whispers that respect the decade of futility, combined with the long odds the team faces right now, but whispers nonetheless that signal a little hope and excitement.

It would be easy for me to slam the door in this blog post. I would point out that the excitement is getting generated during an eight-game winning streak, and the Mariners are not going to win all of their remaining games. They also have four teams to leapfrog in the wild card standings, and it is next-to-impossible to get four teams to collapse simultaneously.

That's not where I'm going to go with this post though. Instead, how about I dial out a few hypothetical scenarios for you, and you decide how likely the Mariners are to take a wild card spot?

The five teams ahead of the Mariners in the wild card standings are the Rays, Athletics, Orioles, Tigers, and Angels, in that order as I write this post. The top two advance to the playoffs, which is why the Mariners only have to beat out four of them instead of all five.

Let's take the Rays out of this hypothetical to make things simpler. They are in first place among wild card teams and also sport the best run differential of all the wild card teams. I will assume they earn the top wild card spot.

Let's also assume that all teams win as many games as expected, based on their run differentials on the year (not their current winning percentage; this mostly hurts the Orioles). However, for the Mariners, we will assume that they keep up their torrid second half pace instead of using their run differential.

The Athletics play the Orioles three times, the Tigers three times, and the Angels seven times between now and the end of the season. I will assume the A's take two out of three against Baltimore, two out of three against Detroit, and four out of seven against Los Angeles of Anaheim.

The Tigers also play the Angels a surprising six times between now and the end of the season. I will assume that they split those six games three apiece.

Lastly, the Mariners play the A's six times, the Orioles three times, and the Angels nine times between now and the end of the season. Let's assume they win all those series two out of three games.

Making all of the above assumptions, here is where the standings would end up at the end of the season:

  1. Athletics, 88-74, 0 GB
  2. Tigers, 86-76, 2 GB
  3. Mariners, 85-77, 3 GB
  4. Angels, 85-77, 3 GB
  5. Orioles, 83-79, 5 GB
Let's make a couple final tweaks. Instead of the Mariners simply winning every series against the Angels and A's, let's say they sweep one from Oakland, and one from Los Angeles of Anaheim. Then the standings would look like this:
  1. Mariners, 87-75, 0 GB
  2. Athletics, 87-75, 0 GB
  3. Tigers, 86-76, 1 GB
  4. Angels, 84-78, 3 GB
  5. Orioles, 83-79, 4 GB
Moral of the story: the Mariners need to keep winning. The second scenario, in which they tie for the second wild card spot, assumes that they win every series the rest of the year with two sweeps thrown in against wild card rivals.

The Mariners play nearly half of their remaining games against teams above them in the wild card standings. They control their own destiny to a degree, even with how far back they are. However, everyone else above them also plays each other quite a bit, which makes it virtually impossible for every team to collapse. As a result, the Mariners probably should not root for losing streaks above them. Splits are much more advantageous, because a losing streak for one team likely means a winning streak for another with how interconnected the schedules are for the wild card teams. This is the reason it is hard to leapfrog several teams in the standings instead of just one or two.

But the Mariners have some sort of chance...