Seattle’s Playoff Run Hinging on the Kids

The Mariners enter the final week of the season needing to play some of their best ball of the year, and needing some of their youngest and least-experienced players to come up big for them.

The Seattle Mariners enter the final week of the baseball regular season as the third team in the standings vying for the two American League Wild Card spots, two games back of Oakland and 1.5 back of Kansas City. With the Royals’ suspended game from August 31 -- which they are trailing 4-to-2 in the bottom of the 10th with Mike Moustakas at the plate -- to be completed Monday in Cleveland (although it started as a home game for Kansas City) ahead of the teams’ regularly scheduled game, that is likely to go back to one game before Seattle takes the field in Toronto.

But regardless of the KC-CLE outcome(s), one thing that won’t change is that tomorrow night Seattle will be sending Canadian-born rookie left-hander James Paxton to the hill to open the most important and intense week of late-season action in Mariners’ baseball in a decade. He’ll most likely have 23-year-old Mike Zunino as his battery-mate, a very young shortstop (either Brad Miller or Chris Taylor), and a bullpen featuring rookie right-handers Dominic Leone and Carson Smith and second year righty Brandon Maurer as key contributers in relief once Paxton is removed from the game.

Yes, Seattle had four veterans represent the club as All-Stars this season – Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager and Fernando Rodney – placing four or more players in the game for the first time since 2003, but with just seven games to play in the 2014 season, Seattle could see three of those games started by rookie pitchers (Paxton twice and Walker once) and a large portion of the responsibility for both the offense and the relief pitching fall on the shoulders of young players, too.

With 2014 winding down, Seattle easily has the most plate appearances for hitters and innings from pitchers from players 25 years of age or under among the contenders in the AL. Those players are a huge reason for the team’s success to date, and it will most likely come down to the performance of those players over the season’s final week to determine whether or not Seattle will make it to the post season for the first time since 2001 and just the fifth time in club history.

Rk G PA ? AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
1 HOU 883 3352 3022 358 745 134 11 80 327 260 747 .247 .311 .378 .688 1141 .300 99 101
2 CHW 592 1967 1808 222 444 82 14 36 164 125 459 .246 .298 .366 .664 662 .308 88 93
3 MIN 479 1806 1644 224 438 97 14 48 196 131 446 .266 .324 .430 .754 707 .336 110 119
4 SEA 517 1688 1550 187 333 60 15 36 134 85 457 .215 .267 .343 .610 531 .278 80 77
5 KCR 447 1629 1513 163 377 83 4 39 176 91 244 .249 .294 .387 .680 585 .272 97 98
6 TEX 446 1651 1511 164 383 65 8 21 153 90 286 .253 .300 .349 .649 527 .297 88 90
7 BOS 434 1610 1452 156 322 74 4 19 121 118 387 .222 .287 .317 .605 461 .286 78 77
8 CLE 311 1024 922 106 235 43 3 21 89 63 219 .255 .309 .376 .685 347 .312 94 100
9 BAL 252 949 893 99 222 38 1 30 87 34 210 .249 .285 .394 .679 352 .293 84 96
10 LAA 231 919 811 140 230 51 10 46 145 89 231 .284 .358 .541 .899 439 .339 142 159
11 DET 266 871 796 90 207 40 5 15 89 57 206 .260 .313 .379 .692 302 .330 83 102
12 TBR 219 783 703 82 164 32 6 17 72 63 181 .233 .299 .368 .668 259 .289 94 94
13 TOR 241 693 630 73 145 24 1 13 55 45 156 .230 .290 .333 .624 210 .284 70 82
14 OAK 134 440 383 46 102 19 1 10 54 52 85 .266 .355 .399 .754 153 .318 116 121
15 NYY 53 132 128 8 28 3 0 2 11 4 40 .219 .242 .289 .531 37 .302 55 55
TOT 5505 19514 17766 2118 4375 845 97 433 1873 1307 4354 .246 .303 .378 .681 6713 .301 93 98
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/21/2014.

Rk ERA G GS IP ? H R ER HR BB SO HBP BK WP BF WHIP SO9 SO/W
1 SEA 3.51 219 66 525.2 474 223 205 47 206 464 26 5 2220 1.294 7.9 2.25
2 CHW 3.73 166 75 562.2 526 265 233 45 214 532 26 1 2400 1.315 8.5 2.49
3 TEX 4.85 165 74 516.1 546 304 278 58 204 318 25 3 2252 1.453 5.5 1.56
4 CLE 3.49 177 61 446.2 433 191 173 47 145 445 23 1 1886 1.294 9.0 3.07
5 NYY 3.30 79 55 357.1 347 141 131 40 81 324 19 2 1483 1.198 8.2 4.00
6 KCR 3.18 173 55 449.1 395 180 159 27 167 365 18 2 1893 1.251 7.3 2.19
7 TOR 4.00 95 53 360.1 325 164 160 33 104 326 15 3 1501 1.191 8.1 3.13
8 TBR 3.39 78 72 430.0 371 176 162 36 152 396 13 0 1793 1.216 8.3 2.61
9 LAA 4.49 115 18 214.1 211 118 107 16 77 184 12 1 916 1.344 7.7 2.39
10 DET 4.10 151 61 450.0 483 223 205 44 132 326 10 2 1913 1.367 6.5 2.47
11 BOS 4.89 67 49 291.0 305 168 158 37 121 197 9 1 1267 1.464 6.1 1.63
12 OAK 3.28 58 48 310.1 262 125 113 30 112 264 8 0 1280 1.205 7.7 2.36
13 HOU 4.50 79 47 317.2 353 168 159 24 103 211 7 3 1383 1.435 6.0 2.05
14 MIN 6.06 64 12 111.1 139 84 75 16 44 90 6 0 513 1.644 7.3 2.05
15 BAL 3.33 53 20 164.2 175 65 61 9 49 115 5 0 699 1.360 6.3 2.35
TOT 3.89 1739 766 5507.2 5345 2595 2379 509 1911 4557 222 24 23399 1.317 7.4 2.38
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/21/2014.

Even though Toronto (almost definitely out) and Los Angeles (in, as the #1 seed) have their post season destinies already set, they aren't likely going to challenge Cano, Seager, Kendrys Morales or even Logan Morrison much if they can avoid it over these final games. Instead they'll pitch around those players and take their chances with the younger, less experienced players in Seattle's lineup -- seeing if the pressure can get the better of them and help the clubs keep Seattle form making it into the playoffs.

It's the same strategy that clubs have been using all season long, really, as Cano has already set a new career high with 19 intentional walks on the year, but Seattle's offense -- which has scored the 12th fewest runs in the AL to date -- has been able to put together just enough to get the Mariners where they are now; on the verge of a playoff berth.

Will they get there? It won't be easy, especially not following dropping two of three to a pretty bad Houston team. If Seattle does do it, it will likely be because a few of their young players come through when they get challenged.

Looking for more Mariners news, articles and player interviews? Want to keep up with which prospects are hot and cold for the M's? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse site Editor Rick Randall on Twitter at @randallball.


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