In order for the Mariners (45-44) to break their light-years-long (well, since 2001, anyway) absence from the MLB postseason, they will have to leap four teams – Houston (48-41), Detroit (46-43), Kansas City (45-43) and the Chicago White Sox (45-43) — that enter the second half ahead of Seattle for the second wild card spot.
The challenge is made more daunting by the schedule. They play 37 of their final 73 games against teams ahead of them in the American League standings, including 20 against clubs in contention for the second wild card. Seattle also has a trio against the New York Yankees (44-44), who are a half game back of the Mariners.
The short summary: Unless, or until, the Mariners fall out of contention, as is their annual custom, no game is irrelevant.
The Mariners will also play 38 of their final 73 vs. the AL West, against which they went a less-than-satisfying 15-22 in the first half. That mark included a 4-6 effort against the Houston Astros, who swept Seattle at Minute Maid Park July 4-6, when the Mariners botched an opportunity to move into second place in the division race.
The Mariners and Astros face each other nine more times, starting with a three-game set Friday night at Safeco Field. Seattle can improve its wild card chances by containing — if such a thing is possible — Houston 2B Jose Altuve, the American League’s first-half MVP (yes, over Mike Trout), who thrashed Seattle for a .417 batting average, 10 runs scored and a 1.182 OPS during the first half.
The 5-foot-6 foot Altuve, who started ahead of Robinson Cano in the All-Star Game, put together one of the more remarkable first halves by a second baseman since 1900, producing a slash line of .341/.413/.542 (vs. Cano’s .313/.368/.555).
The question is: How many second baseman, regardless of league, hit at least .340 with a .400+ on-base percentage and a .500+ slugging mark in a single season? The answer: Darned few.
Long before he managed the old Seattle Rainiers (1951), Rogers Hornsby pulled off the .340/.400/.500 slash nine times between 1915-37, a major reason why he entered the Hall of Fame in 1942. Nap Lajoie, whose career spanned 1896-1916, did it four times. He entered Cooperstown in 1937, the same year Charlie Gehringer hit .371/.458/.520 for the Detroit Tigers.
Only three second basemen have summited the .340/.400/.500 plateau since, none since 1996 when Chuck Knoblauch of the Minnesota Twins enjoyed the best year of his career. This is the list of second baseman to have done it, with Hornsby, Lajoie and Gehringer (three times) represented by their best seasons and Altuve (89 games this season) shown for comparison purposes:
|1901||Nap Lajoie||Phi-A||.426||.423||.643||’01 Triple Crown, HOF 1937|
|1922||Rogers Hornsby||StL||.401||.459||.722||250 hits (42 homers)|
|1929||Tony Lazzeri||NYY||.354||.429||.561||193 hits (18 homers)|
|1930||Frankie Frisch||StL||.346||.407||.520||2,880 hits, HOF 1947|
|1937||Charlie Gehringer||Det||.371||.458||.520||6-time All-Star, HOF 1949|
|1949||Jackie Robinson||Brk||.342||.452||.528||203 hits, 124 RBIs, 37 SBs|
|1953||Red Schoendienst||StL||.342||.405||.502||193 hits (15 homers)|
|1996||Chuck Knoblauch||Min||.341||.448||.517||Didn’t win Silver Slugger|
|2015||Jose Altuve||Hou||.341||.413||.542||119 hits, 14 HRs, 51 RBIs|
With the exceptions of Knoblauch and Altuve, every player is a member of the Hall of Fame. At 26 years old, Altuve is well on his way to establishing his HOF bona fides.
Signed by the Astros as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela in 2007, Altuve reached the majors in 2011. He’s been a four-time All-Star, won two Silver Slugger awards, earned a Gold Glove and captured a batting title. Through his age-25 season, the most similar batters to him, according to baseballreference.com, include Pete Rose, Rod Carew and Paul Molitor, none of whom came close to a .340/.400/.500 year.
This season, Altuve ranks first in the AL in batting average (.341) and hits (119), second in stolen bases (23), times on base (166) and intentional walks (8), third in offensive WAR (4.5) and fourth in OBP (.413), OPS (.954) and runs created (81). He’s also whacked 14 home runs, one shy of his career-high of 15.
Guys who stand 5-foot-6 aren’t supposed to do this, especially the home run part. In fact, only two other players in history who stood 5-foot-6 or shorter hit 15 or more in a season. One was Hack Wilson, who did it five times for the Cubs and once for the Dodgers between 1926-32, and somebody named Dutch Zwilling, who did it for the Chicago Chi-Feds of the Federal League in 1914.
Now we have Jose Altuve, who has nine more opportunities this season to feast on Mariner pitching.