After six straight games against division opponents, the Rockies (44-43, fourth place in NL West) will now face off against an interleague opponent six times in the next ten days. Colorado travels to the Pacific Northwest to face the Seattle Mariners (55-32, second place in AL West) starting Friday night. Then, next weekend, the Mariners come to Denver for another three-game set leading into the All-Star Break.
Winning three in a row and six of seven over the Giants and Dodgers, has brought the Rockies back into the playoff conversation, but the odds remain against them. If they can continue getting exceptional performances from their starting pitchers (the crew is averaging six innings pitched per start over the last two weeks with a 2.64 ERA to boot), they might be worth paying attention to.
They’ll have their work cut out for them. The Mariners are currently sit 1.5 games out of first and are heavy favorites to capture one of the the AL’s Wild Card spots—if not the division crown—come October. If they do secure a playoff spot, it will be their first appearance since the record setting 2001 team went 116-46 only to lose to the Yankees in the ALCS.
The Rockies are 16-22 all-time against the Mariners, going 8-11 at home and 8-11 on the road. The Mariners took three of four from the Rockies last season over Memorial Day weekend, outscoring the Rockies 24-15 in the home-and-home series.
We asked John Trupin of our SB Nation sister site Lookout Landing to answer some questions to help preview the two three-game sets. (I also answered some questions about the Rockies for the Mariners’ faithful. You can read that here.)
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The Mariners are currently in line for a playoff spot for the first time since—we’ll just say a long time and leave it at that. What were expectations coming into the season? What’s the mood around Mariners Country at this stage? Do the overwhelming playoff odds give you any comfort?
Comfort is a foreign concept here in the Pacific Northwest. The median preseason prediction from LL was around 85 wins, and under half of our staff projected Seattle as a playoff team. The team should’ve been decent, but after using 40 pitchers and 17 starting pitchers last year, not even the rosiest-glasses wearer among us expected this.
Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto (former Rockies “great”) loves making moves, so much so that his proclivity for trades inspired a song. What’s it like living as a fan under the Dipoto regime? Is there a looming expiration date on his tenure with Seattle?
Dipoto’s contract expires at the end of this season, casting a pall of uncertainty over the otherwise euphoric first half. He deserves an extension for consistency’s sake if nothing else, but it seems widely believed he’ll only receive it with a playoff appearance this year. As for the day-to-day, it’s a constant struggle. Dipoto is forthright enough to tell you what he’s gonna do, then do it, but only if you can parse the probable from the podcast fluff (have you heard he has a podcast?).
Elephant in the room: Robinson Canó’s suspension. How has his absence, in a baseball sense, affected the Mariners? How has his suspension affected his standing among the fanbase and in the clubhouse?
It makes the Mariners worse. That might be obvious, but it can’t be overstated. Canó helped convince Cruz to sign here, was the savior of Jean Segura’s career/life, and is the unquestioned leader of the M’s clubhouse. I think the response will be pretty contingent on the team’s success. If Seattle has floundered, he’d be an easy scapegoat. With their success, the biggest issue is his playoff ineligibility.
I would like to note that I’ve been on the James Paxton bandwagon for a long time but many are just catching up this year. What do people who haven’t been following need to know about him (other than his bald eagle whispering)? How has he risen to this level of dominance?
Pax was a member of Seattle’s “Big Three” pitching prospects many moons ago—Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, and Paxton. Walker was a beloved underachiever before his trade to Arizona. Hultzen suffered ~15 arm injuries and is out of baseball. Paxton, well, he always had it in him, but his mechanics and body were his enemy. Pax’s bread and butter is a mid-90s fastball, a low-90s cutter, and a looping curveball. He looks very sad about most things he does. He’s our favorite.
On the flip side: Félix Hernández has descended from his peerless heights as King Félix to the back of the rotation. How much is this team counting on Hernández and how much should they be counting on him?
A little, and less. Félix is our King, now and always, but the advisers have been running the kingdom for most of the season. It’s been a slow adjustment for Félix to handle his loss of effectiveness, but the glimmer of hope has come from small adjustments since early June. Look for lots of breaking balls and signature change ups from Hernández this weekend in lieu of an imposing heater.
If you had to name one between Mitch Haniger, Wade LeBlanc, Jean Segura, James Pazos, or someone else, who would be your Unheralded MVP of the team so far and why?
As much as it pains me not to pick my beloved Mitchell from that list, it has to be Jean Segura. The 4th-best shortstop in the AL by fWAR is the Mariners’ best position player. He is a delightful ball of joy who has stepped up both on-field and off in Canó’s absence. In short, thank you to your NL West brethren.
Is there anything else Rockies fans need to know about this team before they see them six times in just over a week?
Marco Gonzales doesn’t appear slated to pitch, which is tragic since he somehow started the Colorado high school state championship game four years in a row . Otherwise, uh… keep an eye out for bunts? They like bunting. We hate it but they’re insistent.
Considering their respective states led the way, should this matchup be called the Smoke-A Bowl?
The Smoke-A-Bowl was a football game. These are a Series of Dabs.
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Probable Pitchers and Schedule
Friday, July 6 @ 8:10 pm MT (AT&T Sportsnet, 850 KOA/94.1 FM)
Germán Márquez (6-8, 5.14 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) vs. Félix Hernández (8-6, 5.11 ERA, 1.36 WHIP)
Last Saturday in Los Angeles Márquez turned in his best performance of the year, shutting down the Dodgers over eight innings allowed just a run on two hits and nine strikeouts. This comes after a run of five straight starts of allowing four earned runs or more.
Saturday, July 7 @ 2:10 pm MT (AT&T Sportsnet, 850 KOA/94.1 FM)
Kyle Freeland (8-6, 3.25 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) vs. James Paxton (8-2, 3.39 ERA, 1.07 WHIP)
If Freeland doesn’t earn an All-Star nomination this coming Sunday, it will be perfect evidence of a notorious Coors Field double standard: success for hitters is to be discounted but success for pitchers isn’t to be given extra credit. Freeland has pitched into the seventh inning in 10 of his 17 starts and has been the Rockies most consistent starter. He’ll go up against the Mariners’ most consistent starter in Paxton in the marquee matchup of the weekend.
Sunday, July 8 @ 2:10 pm MT (AT&T Sportsnet, 850 KOA/94.1 FM)
Antonio Senzatela (3-1, 4.44 ERA, 1.32 WHIP) vs. Wade LeBlanc (4-0, 3.19 ERA, 1.15 WHIP)
After taking two months in Triple-A, Antonio Senzatela rejoined the Rockies on Monday and made his first start of 2018 against the Giants. All he did was throw seven shutout innings allowing just three hits with four strikeouts and—tellingly—no walks. A performance like that is why the Rockies will give Senzatela every chance to start, even if he profiles in the bullpen long term.