Expert Baseball Betting Advice: Are Seattle Mariners for Real?
I've written about my relationship with the Seattle Mariners many times. For many years when I was a kid, my hometown's now-departed ball team was the AAA affiliate of the Mariners, and I couldn't count the number of times I saw them play. Greats (and very-goods) like A-Rod, Edgar Martinez, Omar Vizquel, Tino Martinez, Jim Abbott and many others came through. Ken Griffey Jr. skipped AAA, but he did play one exhibition game here. The greatest part of minor league baseball is the possessive connection you feel with the guys you see on the way up, and those days tied me to the Mariners forever. As a result, I have gone through a long process of feeling every year that this was the year that Seattle broke through and did some damage. And, of course they never have. They have had the odd good year but have made nothing of it. And the number of years they have disappointed compared to expectations can't be counted. Now that I am older, I must have mellowed, because this was the first year that I really didn't believe in them too much and really didn't expect anything of them. So, of course, they are in first place in the AL West in the middle of June and are playing the best they have played in more than a decade. Baseball is a strange sport.
So, how are the Mariners doing it - besides the obvious fact that they are punishing me for my loss of faith, I mean. Can they keep it up? And what does it mean for bettors? Here are five factors to consider when pondering those questions:
Pitching: The rotation was a big question coming into the season. The great Felix Hernandez is a shadow of himself, and it wasn't clear that they had enough with the collection of names they had assembled to make up for that. But as it turns out they really have - at least so far. Mike Leake had one strong year and a couple of decent ones in Cincinnati, but the last three years have been very forgettable for him as he bounced around. But he is 7-3 right now, and the team is 11-3 when he starts. That is so far beyond realistic expectations for him that it's ridiculous. His ERA is high, so it might not be sustainable, but it has been a heck of a run so far - he is the second-most-profitable pitcher in all of baseball so far behind only Eduardo Rodriguez in Boston.
He's isn't alone, either. Marco Gonzales had started just 14 games in four years leading up to this season, but this year he is 7-2, and the team is 10-4 when he starts. And his 3.42 ERA is a career-best by a very wide margin. And James Paxton, my fellow Canadian, has fully stepped into the ace role, complete with a no-hitter in Toronto. He is 6-1 and has 10 quality starts in 14 outings.
It all adds up to the fourth-stingiest defense in the American League. And considering that the three above them are playoff locks Boston, New York and Houston, that's a pretty good place for them to be.
Power has upside: The ageless Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager are where the power comes from in this lineup. Neither is quite hitting for average like we are used to, but they are both putting up numbers that are loosely equivalent to last year. They both have plenty of upside, though, and are a hot streak away from really breaking through. And the pressure on them is less because of production from a couple of unexpected sources. Mitch Haniger is playing full time in right field for the first time in his three-year career, and he already has as many home runs and more RBIs in 67 games than he had in 96 last season. And his 52 RBIs are second-best in all of baseball behind only J.D. Martinez. No one saw that coming. He looks very comfortable, and his production seems sustainable. And Ryon Healy, who had 25 home runs for the A's last year in 149 games in his first full season in the majors, already has 13 home runs in 51 games this year. Again, his underlying numbers don't feel so inflated as to be unsustainable by any means.
Division and beyond: The Astros have been chasing the Mariners all season, and they are playing their best ball and are a good bet to eventually get past Seattle. But the Angels have faltered, and losing Shohei Ohtani is a big blow. And Oakland would accomplish a lot just by finishing .500. Seattle could slip up a bit and still wind up comfortably second in the AL West. That is irrelevant, of course - it's the wild card that matters if they don't win. The loser of the Boston and New York battle in the AL East is written in in pen for one of the two spots, but the rest of the East is a disaster, the second-place team in the central is four wins behind .500, and the Angels are the next-best team in the league. As long as this team doesn't slip up entirely then they are in good position to claim the second wild-card spot at a minimum.
Run differential: This has all been so positive, but being positive about the Mariners doesn't feel right. One glaring negative is their run differential. It sits at +27 through 68 games. That they have still managed to win 44 of those games given that is quite remarkable. By contrast, the Astros have a +138 mark. There are 11 teams in baseball with a better differential. All that really matters is that it is positive - it is all but impossible to make the playoffs or do damage once you get there if you don't have a positive differential. But continued solid pitching and a jump in offense would be a boost.
Betting performance: A surprising strong team nearly as good on the road as at home, fueled by largely unknown or underappreciated pitchers, and usually playing past the bedtime of people on the East Coast. It sounds like a recipe for betting success. And indeed it has been. The team is, by a fairly wide margin, the most profitable team in baseball, ahead of two more very surprising teams in Atlanta and Milwaukee.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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