There are so many different ways the Wild Card standings could play out within the next three days. Most scenarios look bleak for the Mariners, but, if everything goes their way, they’ll be in the post season for the first time in fourteen years. Which leaves the question: Who should pitch in the winner-moves-on AL Wild Card game?
It’s true, the odds of the Mariners even making the playoffs are very slim.
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According to ESPN’s playoff predictions, the Mariners have a 11.4% chance of making the post season. It gets a little better in the views on MLB.com’s playoff predictions. They say the Mariners have a 16.6% chance of making the Wild Card game. And, even in the most positive looking projection from FiveThirtyEight.com, the Mariners have an 18% chance to play deeper into October.
Yet, despite these pessimistic (but very realistic) forcasts, the Mariners do still have a chance to make the playoffs. Therefore, the Mariners should be discussing who should start the must-win Wild Card game on Tuesday evening.
It may seem like a simple choice for some. Put Felix Hernandez in. He’s earned his chance over the years. He’s the been the rock of the rotation for over a decade. He is a Cy Young winner. But, is he the Mariners best option to win?
Why The King Shouldn’t Take The Mound
It is a proven fact that Hernandez is not only the longest tenured Mariner in the rotation, but he is also the winningest M’s pitcher, as well as the one with the most strikeouts in franchise history.
He has been the embodiment of the team’s slogan, “True to the Blue”, staying with the club through the good and mostly bad times for nearly twelve seasons.
However -and it pains me from the bottom of my heart to say this- there are certain points that can not be overlooked when choosing the right man for this job, and Felix fails both tests.
To win a Wild Card game, or any playoff series for that matter, a pitcher needs to throw at least one or two good games. One way the pitching staff can project who could do the best job at going out and having a couple good outings is a players recent stretch.
Hernandez has been wildly unpredictable going into every start this year. Since returning from the DL after the All-Star break, he has pitched as many games where he has given up four or more runs than games where he allowed three or fewer runs.
If we magnify those numbers even more, we see that in September, he has had three starts where he has given up four or more runs. Where as, he has only pitched two games that he didn’t give up more than three runs, and, they both happened to be shutouts.
As we look deeper, we see that Hernandez’s BB/9 is the highest it’s ever been in his career (3.9) and his K/9 is the lowest it’s ever been (7.1). For a man who has his own “court” of people chanting every time he could get a strikeout, his number of K’s just doesn’t cut it.
Not only is his current six game stretch to not record five or more K’s in a single start the longest he’s had since entering the league in 2005, but he’s never had a streak like that of five or even four games. Yes, in 358 career starts, Hernandez in the midst of his poorest stretch of doing what he’s done best, fan batters.
It’s not all about his current unpredictability on the mound though. No, there is also a much simpler answer to why he shouldn’t and probably won’t start on Tuesday.
Manager, Scott Servais has planned his rotation for weeks. He decided that King Felix should finish out the Season at Safeco Field. I’m not sure the Servais thought the M’s would be in the heart of the playoff race when he decided this, but it’s too late to go back now.
It would be heroic if Hernandez could pitch a stellar game on Sunday, then come out two days later to pitch in the biggest game of his career.
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Even the historic World Series performance a few years back by the San Fransisco Giants, Madison Bumgarner, wouldn’t compare to what The King would be asked to do.
To pitch on one day’s rest is madness. It’s the kind of thing you could see maybe Walter Johnson or Christy Matthewson doing over a hundred years ago, but not in these times.
With all that said, the Mariners do have viable options to pitch one of the biggest games in M’s history.
Taijuan Walker, Hisashi Iwakuma and even Ariel Miranda have proven to be solid options for the Mariners in September. Plus with the bullpen in the best form it’s been in all season, if either of those men can put in a solid five innings at least, the pen could carry the team the rest of the way.
But, first things first. Let’s make the playoffs, then we’ll see what Servais and the Mariners decide to do in their first post season game since 2001.