The FIRST-PLACE Seattle Mariners (3-1), led by MVP candidate Chone Figgins (after four games, anyway), take their moveable feast to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington Monday for the start of a four-game series against Texas, winner of consecutive American League pennants and a club that dominated Seattle for two years.
The Rangers defeated the Mariners 15 times in 19 meetings in 2011, including nine of 10 games in Arlington, cumulatively outscoring Seattle, 95-53. In 2010, the Rangers beat Seattle 12 of 19, by a combined score of 101-51. In the past 38 games between the two, Texas has won 27 and outscored Seattle 196-104.
If Seattle can sustain against Texas what it started last week against Oakland, the Mariners might be able to change their negative dynamic against the Rangers. The Mariners produced 15 runs vs. the A’s on an astonishing (for them, given their feebleness of recent seasons) 26 hits in taking a pair, 7-3 and 8-7.
But Texas will throw a trio of pitchers at Seattle this week that went a combined 6-1, 2.88 ERA vs. the Mariners last year and have a combined career mark of 13-5, 3.10 against them.
The Rangers open the four-game set with Japanese import Yu Darvish, on whom the Rangers spent more money ($110 million in posting fees and contract value) to acquire last winter than Texas club president Nolan Ryan made in his own 27-year pitching career (1975-93), $25.7 million.
Darvish, making his major league debut, compiled a record of 72-28 with a 1.72 ERA in five years (2007-11) with Nippon Ham. He is a two-time Pacific League Most Valuable Player (2007, 2009), a three-time league strikeout champion (2007, 2010-11), a two-time ERA champion (2009-10) and a two-time Gold Glove winner (2007-08).
Darvish will oppose Hector Noesi, who will make his first start as a Mariner and only the third of his major league career.
Converted reliever Neftali Feliz, who opposes Blake Beavan Tuesday, has faced 14 of the 25 players on Seattle’s roster. Those 14 are a combined 0-for-28, 0.00 ERA against him. The only Mariner with any success against Feliz: Alex Liddi, who has walked twice.
The Mariners will contest Colby Lewis Wednesday. Lewis, who will be matched opposite former Ranger Kevin Millwood, went 2-1, 3.63 in four starts against Seattle last year and is 6-4, 3.70 against them in his career. Don’t expect much out of Seattle catcher Miguel Olivo here: he’s 0-for-14 with six strikeouts against Lewis. On the other hand, Ichiro (.375) and Figgins (.313) have a record of banging Lewis around.
Thursday’s Texas starter, Derek Holland, went 3-0, 2.77 in four starts against Seattle in 2011, whiffing 27 in 26 innings. Holland is 5-1, 3.17 in six career starts against the Mariners. Holland will match pitches with Jason Vargas (1-0), who defeated the A’s Friday.
With a 3-1 start, and a .410 batting average with runners in scoring position, the Mariners have a chance at their first winning April since 2009 (13-9 last year) and just their second in the past eight seasons.
If 2012 isn’t going to be, as Sportspress Northwest columnist Art Thiel pointed out in a post last week, a 162-game battle with the Athletics for third place in the AL West, the Texas series is significant in terms of the Mariners sustaining their quality start.
At this time of year, many managers — Lou Piniella especially comes to mind — are fond of saying, particularly if their clubs stumble out of the gate, “it’s early yet,” suggesting there is a lot of baseball still to be played, and that even a ship listing severely in April can be righted.
Sure, it happens, but not often. In fact, in their own case, the Mariners not only put the lie to this, they stand as nearly perfect examples of what happens to teams, especially in the AL West, that get off to bad starts.
Since 1994, when baseball created three divisions, 36 editions of the Mariners, Angels, Rangers and Athletics have combined for losing records in March/April. We are not counting April of 1995, when the season did not commence until the end of that month due to the previous season’s player strike (each AL West club played only a handful of April games that year).
Of the 36 losing March/Aprils suffered by the four AL West entries, 27 resulted in losing seasons.
Since 1994, April has been the most indicative month as to how the Mariners are going to perform throughout the season. Consider:
- 7: The number of times (again, since 1994) that the Mariners have posted a winning record in March/April.
- 7: The number of times that the Mariners finished with a winning record after having a winning March/April.
- 8: The number of times the Mariners had a losing March/April.
- 0: The number of times the Mariners recovered to post a winning record after a losing March/April.
In the AL West, the Athletics and Angels have each had four losing March/Aprils, but rebounded to end the season above .500. Oakland had the most remarkable turnaround, going 8-17 in March/April of 2001, but finishing with 102 victories compared to Seattle’s record 116.
The following are the only AL West clubs that started out losing in March/April, and then finished with a winning seasonal record. Note that of the nine teams that recovered to end on a positive note, only three wound up in the postseason, and only two got past the American League Division Series.
|1999||Angels||10-14||87-75||Failed to make playoffs|
|2000||Athletics||12-13||91-70||Failed to make playoffs|
|2001||Angels||11-13||99-63||99 wins, but no playoffs|
|2001||Athletics||8-17||102-60||Lost to NYY in ALDS|
|2004||Athletics||11-12||91-71||Failed to make playoffs|
|2006||Angels||12-13||89-73||Failed to make playoffs|
|2009||Angels||9-12||97-65||Lost ALCS to NYY 4-2|
|2009||Rangers||10-11||87-75||Failed to make playoffs|
|2010||Rangers||11-12||90-72||Lost World Series to SF|
A little recent history upon which to chew: The 2011 Mariners, like the 2012 edition, started the season on a positive note, taking two of three from the Athletics in Oakland. The Mariners then went to Texas for a three-game series and lost all by a combined margin of 16-7.
That launched a seven-game losing streak, which turned into a 13-15 April, which precipitated a 67-95 record, and the club’s sixth last-place finish in eight years.