Friday, July 23. If you’re an A’s fan or player, you wake up feeling pretty good. I’d say it’s a beautiful day in the Bay Area, but July tends to be pretty miserable there. And anyway, you’re in Seattle this morning, and it is lovely there. As far as your team’s fortunes, everything is ok. Not great, but you’d choose it over most teams.
The A’s are just two and a half games behind the Astros in the AL West. They hold the second Wild Card spot by a game over the dreaded Yankees. And they’ve done that with Matt Chapman basically being a cipher at the plate all season. You have to figure he’ll pick it up at some point, he’s one of the best in the game at third, after all. And that’ll balance out Tony Kemp’s pixie dust running out. You’re the A’s, you always find a way.
And if some baseball genie (I assume it looks like Bob Uecker) came down and told you on that day all you’d really have to do from that date forward is go .500 against the Mariners for the rest of the season and the last week would be meaningful — no problem! The Mariners are fun and all, but still very much on the upswing. They don’t really have a great offense, and lack anything resembling a dominant starter. Get out of my house, genie Bob Uecker!
Yeah, well… don’t be mean to genie Bob Uecker.
The A’s have lost 10 in a row to the M’s since that July 23rd morning. Had they just gone 5-5, which really should have been manageable — like, really — they’d be a game and a half off the Astros now with five to play. They’d hold the top Wild Card spot as well, getting to host the game they’ve made a habit of barfing up. (Seriously, the game should have shifted from being called the “Clint Hurdle Invitational” to the “Bob Melvin Invitational” — h/t to Joe Sheehan for the idea.) But thanks to that 10-game losing streak to just one team, the A’s season is essentially over and has been since last week… when they got swept by the Mariners at home.
Last night was one of the more galling efforts against Seattle. Cole Irvin was staked to a 3-0 lead before even throwing a pitch in the bottom of the first. Irvin is the one who was just a touch dismissive of the M’s back in May, and perhaps that’s been the impetus for all of this. By the bottom of the third it was tied, and by the end of the fourth it was 8-4 Mariners as Deolis Guerra came in to relieve Irvin after two walks to open the inning and proceeded to set up his own county fair ride around the bases. Zoinks!
That hasn’t been the usual M.O. for the Mariners against the A’s. Six of these ten wins have been by one or two runs, meaning the A’s can spend the winter replaying just a handful of moments against one team that might have made all the difference. Like a wild pitch on July 23 in Seattle from Jason Diekmann that plated the winning run. Or the next night when the M’s again won a game on a wild pitch, this time in the ninth. Or maybe August 23, and Lou Trivino imploding in the ninth with the A’s up 3-2 but losing 5-3. On such margins…
It would be natural to conclude that there are just certain Mariners the A’s can’t get out. And for some reason they’ve really struggled to keep Tom Murphy gravity-based, as he’s slugged .594 against them this season (full season SLG: .356). But that’s kind of it. Ty France and Mitch Haniger have also hit well against the Green and Gold, but they’ve hit well all season (though Haniger does have a 1.026 OPS against the A’s). Oakland hasn’t been able to do anything against the M’s pen all season, no matter who was in it when.
But mostly it’s just the Mariners getting their sequencing right — i.e. bunching their hits enough to score runs, whereas the A’s haven’t.
I suppose it could be cast as a metaphor for how the Mariners are likely to usurp the A’s next season as the Astros’ main competitors in the West and for the foreseeable future. And that most likely will be the case. But more likely it’s just one of those things that makes it clear: Baseball is weird as fuck.