Originally posted on The Flagrant Fan  |  Last updated 8/31/12
As most of you know, there is a daily feature here that picks games every day. While it is easy to just do it every day without thinking, there has been some reflection on how the year has changed since the beginning. The Padres and Mariners were hard to pick to win in the beginning of the season. Now they are hard to pick against. How did that happen? Take the Seattle Mariners, for example. (somewhere, Henny Youngman is saying, "Please."). The Mariners are 30-22 since the first of July. For a team like the Mariners to have a 15-11 month is reasonable. To do it twice in two months is not something easily brushed aside.
The knee-jerk reaction is to say first off that they are doing well because they got rid of Ichiro. But the team's winning ways started before he left. Here is a rundown on their last twelve series:
  • Took two of three from the Bay Rays
  • Took one of three from the Yankees
  • Swept four from the Royals
  • Swept the Twins
  • Swept the three games against the Blue Jays
  • Took one of three from the Yankees
  • Lost three to the Orioles
  • Took two of three from the Angels
  • Took two of three from the Bay Rays
  • Took three straight from the Twins
  • Took three straight from the Indians
  • Lost three straight to the White Sox
  • Took three of four from the Twins.
What does that tells us? It appears that they are beating up on weak teams, losing to good teams with the Angels in the middle there somewhere between both poles. Well, they have beat up on the Rays and that team is good. So maybe this list isn't telling us anything.
Perhaps they are hitting way better in the second half than they were in the first. Well, not exactly. They have a .669 OPS as a team in the second half compared to .649 in the first half. That really isn't that significant a change. How about pitching? Well, we do know that Felix Hernandez has gone crazy. And yes, otherwise the pitching is significantly better in the second half. The ERA is a half a run better in the second half. The first half WHIP of 1.243 has come down to a second half WHIP of 1.186.
The Mariners pitch much better at home. That is not hard to understand. Their home ballpark is death to batters. And their two month surge cannot be attributed to a schedule fluke where they are playing more at home than on the road. 19 of their last 37 games have been home. So that is a dead end. 
The Mariners have pitched much better and the Mariners are very good defensibly, especially in the infield. Brendan Ryan is the gold standard for shortstops and Kyle Seager has become very impressive at third too.
Two big pitching changes have helped a lot. Hector Noesi was getting shelled on a regular basis. Hisashi Iwakuma has taken over that spot and made it flourish. He has been a revelation, for sure. The other was to dispatch League as its closer and turn to Tom Wilhelmsen. The latter has stabilized the bullpen and other bullpen parts such as Oliver Perez (yes, THAT Oliver Perez), Charlie Furbush and Lucas Luetke are pitching very well.
It seems clear that this surge by the Mariners has been fueled by pitching and defense. All the Mariners have to do for three of every five games is to keep the score low and the team can steal wins. Mariners fans are long suffering and it has to be fun going through these good times. They may not yet be where they want to go, but the Mariners are a lot better than a lot of other teams. That statement would have been impossible to make earlier in the season.
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