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Seattle Mariners

Ryan Divish: Mariners still have hope, although task appears daunting

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 8, 2017, 8:17 p.m.

The Seattle Mariners expect injured starting pitcher James Paxton to return soon. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
The Seattle Mariners expect injured starting pitcher James Paxton to return soon. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

SEATTLE – Following the three-game sweep by the Houston Astros, the Mariners’ postseason hopes seem to be on life support, if not all ready ruled dead by some.

Seattle finally got decent starting pitching in the series, but the offense was stymied by Houston’s superior starting pitching. The inability of the Mariners’ bullpen to operate successfully within the thin margins of victory/defeat was also a problem.

The prevailing questions for the few fans that haven’t already given up hope goes something like this:

From Seatown Baller @SeatownBaller: Mariners, done or finished?

Well, OK, maybe not everyone has that same question, or that same level of snark. But for the sake of Mr. Baller – and usually people that label themselves ballers are far from ballers when it comes hoops skill – the question can be pushed to this: Have the Mariners finally crushed their own playoff hopes and dreams once and for all? It’s a premise that has been asked multiple times this season.

Here are the facts: After Thursday’s off day, the Mariners were 69-71 and four games back for the second American League wild-card spot held by the Twins (73-67).

Teams ahead of Seattle are: Angels (72-68), one game back; Orioles (71-69), two games back; Rangers (70-69), 2 1/2 games back; Royals (69-70), 3 1/2 games back; Rays (70-71), 3 1/2 games back.

So the Mariners are four back with five teams ahead of them. That’s not ideal, or suboptimal as the “cool” sabermetric kids would say.

But a year ago on the same day, the Mariners were 71-68 and five games back for the second wild card with four teams ahead of them. On Sept. 7 of last season, the Mariners beat the Rangers 8-3 on a strong start from Ariel Miranda and two homers from Adam Lind. It was the start of an eight-game win streak that roared them back into the race. And being the Mariners, they went 1-4 over the following five games after the win streak stopped. But a 7-2 stretch followed the respite to keep them in it until the second-to-the-last day of the season.

It’s easy and logical to point out that this season’s version of the Mariners isn’t built to rip off eight wins in a row. They’ve had two streaks of six wins in a row and a stretch of winning nine out of 10.

But given the current state of the starting rotation – which doesn’t have James Paxton or Felix Hernandez – and the absence of key setup men David Phelps and Tony Zych, it’s difficult to see a run.

The Mariners had 22 games remaining heading into Friday. A conservative guess would say they’d need to win at least 85 games overall to have a chance. That means going 16-6 the remainder of the season. They’ve never had a stretch of that sort of success this season.

Of those 22 remaining games, only three come against a team with a losing record – the Oakland A’s. Seattle has seven more games with the Rangers, three with the Astros, six with the Angels and three against the Indians. All four teams are playing for something. The Astros are still trying to maintain their home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, while the Indians are chasing them. Both teams are simply better than Seattle in most aspects. As mentioned, both the Rangers and Angels are still in the wild-card race.

Both Paxton and Hernandez will throw simulated games on Friday, meaning they could be back in the rotation on the upcoming road trip to Dallas and Houston if all goes well. Both would be limited to about 60-70 pitches in their first outings, but it would still be an improvement. The acquisition of Mike Leake and the solid pitching of Erasmo Ramirez will also help.

Still, there is a total reliance on the offense to win games. And facing the pitching of the Astros and Indians will be an issue.

Are the Mariners done or finished? Mathematically, they are neither. But nothing they’ve done has given a sense for optimism. They are going to have to win at a rate they haven’t done this season, and they’ll need serious failure from teams in front of them to have a chance.

The true answer to the question could come in the next week.