Bob Melvin Oakland Athletics

Few people expected the Seattle Mariners to remain in the postseason conversation well into July. But here we are with the Mariners tantalizingly close to the second Wild Card spot. Yes, a lot can change between now and game-162 – Seattle knows this better than many fan bases. But let’s face it. Watching the rebuilding club flirt with the possibility of earning a playoff berth has been a blast.

With the MLB trade deadline about a week away, now seems like a good time to size up the competition standing between the Mariners and returning to the postseason for the first time since 2001. All told, there are six teams that aren’t division leaders with a reasonable chance of keeping Seattle out of the playoffs. Let’s start with the two clubs currently in the Wild Card spots.

Tampa Bay Rays

Not only do the defending AL champions hold the top Wild Card spot, they’re closing in on the AL East division-leading Red Sox. Tampa Bay also has a recent history of success with the fifth best winning percentage (.589) in MLB since 2018 with two postseason berths to its credit.

The Rays experienced a rough June with a 12-14 record, including a four-game sweep at the hands of the Mariners in Seattle. As a consequence of the team’s struggles, it went from the best record in the majors on Memorial Day to the first Wild Card spot in July. Still, manager Kevin Cash has guided his squad to a 10-5 record this month.

Tampa Bay’s lineup is long with six players boasting an OPS+ over 100, which is the league-average mark. As a result, the team ranks eighth in MLB with 4.89 runs scored/game. Defensively, the Rays have 48 defensive runs saved (DRS) – second most in MLB.

Losing top starter Tyler Glasnow to injury last month certainly didn’t help. Since the right-hander went down with a flexor strain and partial UCL tear on June 14, the starting staff’s ERA has ballooned to 5.16, which ranks 25th in MLB. Prior to Glasnow’s injury, the rotation had a 3.49, good enough for eighth best. There is some hope that Glasnow rejoins the team later in the season. Still, hope is not a course of action.

Fortunately, for the Rays, the team has Cash at the helm. The seventh-year manager has a history of weaving together his rotation and bullpen in a manner that delivers positive results despite having a staff full of lesser-known names.

Another factor favoring Tampa Bay, the front office has a knack for making in-season moves that yield positive outcomes. In 2020, it was a relative unknown – Randy Arozarena. According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, the Rays are aiming higher this year.

Oakland A’s

Oakland is an interesting club considering it has a .500 record when playing the AL East and AL West. Yet, its flourished with a 21-9 record against the AL Central and NL opponents.

As with the Rays, the A’s have a deep lineup with six players having an above-average OPS+. But the team is mid-pack in multiple categories such as OBP, SLG, OPS+, and the most important stat – runs scored. Moreover, the designated hitter position’s .696 OPS ranks 12th in the AL. It’s worth noting Oakland does generate extra base hits and is top-10 in home runs and doubles.

The starting rotation doesn’t have a marquee name, but is effective nonetheless. Oakland starters have a 3.64 ERA this season, which is eighth best in the majors. Leading the way are Chris Bassitt, rookie James Kaprielian, Cole Irvin, and Sean Manaea.

As usual, the bullpen has been a strength that’s been well-managed by skipper Bob Melvin. Having said that, adding another reliever or two would benefit the team down the stretch giving it a better shot of going deeper into the postseason.

Prior to Passan’s report, there had been a lot of speculation that Nelson Cruz would be a perfect fit for Oakland. He would’ve been, although there’s one issue that should never be overlooked with the A’s – finances. Cruz is owed approximately $4 million for the final two months of the season. That doesn’t seem like a lot of money for an MLB team. But it may be with this organization.

In the offseason, Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported that after the A’s declined to make the $18.9 million qualifying offer to longtime shortstop Marcus Semien, the team suggested a one-year/$12.5 million contract to Semien with $10 million deferred in 10 one-year installments of $1 million. Oakland also signed reliever Trevor Rosenthal to a one-year/$11 million backloaded deal with the reliever receiving $3 million in both 2021 and 2022 and $5 million in 2023.

Toronto Blue Jays

Only the Astros and Dodgers are plating more runs than Toronto’s prolific offense, which is averaging 5.2 runs scored/game. To that point, Blue Jays hitters collectively rank top-three in home runs, AVG, SLG, and OPS+. On the other hand, the pitching staff has been far less dynamic.

That’s not to say the Blue Jays’ staff is bad. But the rotation and bullpen are closer to league-average than leaders of the pack. The starting staff is headlined by veteran Robbie Ray, who’s having an excellent season. Behind Ray are fellow southpaws Hyun Jin Ryu and Steven Matz with their league-average production and an inconsistent Ross Stripling in the fourth spot. After that, it gets a bit squishy. The bullpen is similar – decent results without standout performers.

There’s also an unknown regarding the remainder of the Blue Jays’ season that could tip the scales for or against the club during the stretch run – its home field.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Blue Jays have played their home games in Dunedin, Florida and Buffalo, New York this season. But the club finally gets to head back to Toronto in about a week. How will playing in the Rogers Centre affect the Blue Jays’ offense?

Perhaps the new home surroundings won’t impact Toronto’s run-scoring machine. But it’s worth noting that the team has boasted a combined .837 OPS in Florida and New York compared to .732 on the road. For those wondering, the pitching staff’s ERA has been relatively similar at home and on the road.

Regardless of park factors, adding rotation and bullpen help prior to the deadline would be the best course of action for the Blue Jays.

New York Yankees

It’s been a rough season for the Bronx Bombers with injuries playing a big role in the club’s struggles this year. Notable names currently on the IL include Aaron Judge, Gio Urshela, Clint Frazier, plus starter Corey Kluber and a plethora of relievers.

Coincidentally, the Yankees had the same 12-14 record in June as division-rival Tampa Bay with New York also playing better in July (9-5). Since the All-Star break, the team has consecutive series wins over the Mariners, Houston, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Still, the Yankees must play better within their own division to have a chance of returning to the postseason for a fifth consecutive season. The Bombers are 31-19 against AL Central, AL West, and NL teams. But even after taking two of three from the Red Sox, New York is only 19-25 versus the AL East.

Assuming the Yankees continue playing well this month, the team may choose to lean forward at the deadline to improve its postseason chances. As with every club, rotation help has to be a top priority. Adding another bat would also benefit the hobbled roster. A name bandied around often is Texas’ Joey Gallo. The slugger would certainly represent an upgrade to the lineup. Not only that, the Gold Glove right fielder has demonstrated in the past he can play any outfield position and first base.

Cleveland Indians

Cleveland has an uphill battle ahead of it. The team ranks in the bottom-third of MLB in AVG and OBP with its short lineup having just three hitters posting an OPS+ over 100.

As always, pitching is the engine that propels Cleveland’s success. Unfortunately, injuries and ineffectiveness have negatively impacted the starting staff with 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale currently on the IL. That said, the bullpen remains a viable weapon for manager Terry Francona.

Although Cleveland plays in the weak AL Central division, payroll restrictions probably prevent the club from making up ground in the standings. Last offseason, the front office dealt Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco for financial reasons. This suggests it’s more likely this team moves veteran contracts than acquire them.

Los Angeles Angels

Although the Mariners have recently enjoyed success against the Angels, we shouldn’t discount this club over the final two months of the season. Especially with Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, and Justin Upton eventually returning from the IL. That’s tantamount to acquiring a few extra hitters at the deadline without having to make a trade.

Still, the Angels’ postseason aspirations will hinge on the starting rotation – not their bats. Everyone is aware that Shohei Ohtani is having an MVP-caliber season. But Ohtani isn’t alone. Rookie Patrick Sandoval has been excellent and veteran Alex Cobb is proving to be a stabilizing presence. On the other hand, Opening Day rotation members Dylan Bundy and Jose Quintana are now in the bullpen due to poor performances and Andrew Heaney has also struggled.

Backing up the rotation are several interesting relief arms. Most notably, closer Raisel Iglesias. But the Halos’ bullpen lacks depth and now includes banished starters Bundy and Quintana.

Considering the Angels’ position in the standings, it’s plausible the team sells at the deadline. Yes, I could be dead wrong. But the Halos have 12 pending free agents, including Cobb, Heaney, Bundy, Quintana, shortstop José Iglesias, catcher Kurt Suzuki, and relievers Alex Claudio, Tony Watson, and Steve Cishek. This month would be a great opportunity for GM Perry Minasian to begin reloading for 2022 and beyond.

Looking Ahead

For me, the postseason chances of the six teams we’ve discussed and the Mariners fall in the following order:

  1. Rays
  2. A’s
  3. Yankees
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Mariners
  6. Angels
  7. Cleveland

Many of the blemishes affecting the clubs we’ve discussed also apply to the Mariners. Seattle’s lineup is short, the roster has been plagued by injuries, and the starting rotation has delivered suboptimal results. Even during the team’s hot stretch since Memorial Day, its offense ranks in the bottom-third of MLB in many categories.

Obviously, a lot can change by the last day of the season. Especially with clubs having an opportunity to improve via trade this month. However, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto remains steadfastly committed to the organization’s rebuild process. Therefore, adding big-ticket difference makers by the deadline doesn’t seem likely.

Even if Dipoto were willing to throw caution to the wind, ownership likely prevents the sixth-year GM from acquiring the salaries of established players. It’s the same challenge facing the front offices of Oakland and Cleveland, although Seattle is a significantly larger market than those cities.

Then again, the Mariners’ current roster could simply prove naysayers like me wrong by playing its way into the postseason. After all, you can’t argue with results – even when underlying metrics suggest there should’ve been a different outcome.

My Oh My…

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Image courtesy of Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire
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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins

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