One of my favorite summer pastimes as a boy was perusing the scoreboard page of our local newspapers.
My specialty was memorizing the leaders in every baseball statistical category. You know, WHIP, OPS, WAR, all the typical stuff.
Actually, in the dark ages, when the Internet was still just a figment of Al Gore’s imagination, the statistics found in the paper consisted of basic information: Batting average, runs batted in, home runs, wins, strikeouts, those type of things.
But it didn’t matter if your team was winning or losing. The statistics were always there to either comfort or depress.
Which brings us to the 2017 Seattle Mariners, who comfort and depress us, sometimes in the same inning.
Will the M’s make the playoffs? At 63-62 after Sunday’s 3-0 loss at Tampa Bay, they are still just a game-and-a-half out of the second spot, currently held by Minnesota and the L.A. Angels.
How that race will play out is anyone’s guess.
But there are other races playing out every day. Statistical races. They are not as important, sure, but serve to keep the little boy in some of us alive through the end of September, standings be darned.
Our statistical hero, right now, is Nelson Cruz.
The 37-year-old designated is seemingly getting better with age. In his two-plus seasons in Seattle, he’s hit 118 home runs, playing half his games in one of the toughest ballparks on right-handed hitters in baseball.
But his eye-popping home runs – his 482-foot shot in Tampa Friday night was the longest ever hit at Tropicana Field in the Statcast era – isn’t what Cruz is about. At least not this season.
Driving in runs. That’s what he does best – and currently better than anyone in the American League.
Cruz, the M’s cleanup hitter, has 100 RBIs, 10 more than the Tigers’ Justin Upton.
To drive in runs, however, there has to be runners on base in front of Cruz. Even with his 31 home runs (sixth in the A.L.), it’s still imperative.
Which brings us to Jean Segura, who has filled the role of leadoff hitter this year.
The Mariners acquired the shortstop in an offseason trade with Arizona and when he’s has been healthy – Segura had two stints on the disabled list – he’s been everything they wanted.
Segura is third in the American League in hitting at .314 and has scored 60 times in his 93 games.
Robinson Cano has held down the third spot for all but 12 games this season, 11 of those while he was hurt. Though Cano isn’t having his typical season – he’s under his career averages in just about every category – he’s still a potent force in the lineup.
Between Segura and Cano, the second spot has been a revolving door.
Eleven different players have occupied it, with Ben Gamel (the M’s second-leading hitter at .295) and Mitch Haniger the most common, though neither have hit there since July 29. Lately manager Scott Servias has been platooning the spot, using recently acquired first baseman Yonder Alonso against right-handers and the flavor of the month against lefties.
Yet, with Kyle Seager holding down the fifth spot, the Mariners’ order is top heavy.
Most importantly, though, it is locked in for a few years.
That’s the lesson of this season, whether the M’s earn a postseason bid or not. The key components of their lineup will be in Seattle for a while.
Yes, Cruz is only signed through next season, when he will be 38 years old.
But Segura, Cano, Gamel, Haniger and, if you are interested, closer Edwin Diaz, are signed or under club control until 2023, Seager until 2022.
That’s a decent core to build around. Offensively at least.
The pitching? That’s a subject for another day.
And not something the child in me wants to contemplate.