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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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August 19, 2007 4:59 PM

Sweep helps M's keep pace

Posted by Geoff Baker

UPDATE: Well, I stand corrected on Cha Seung Baek. He did indeed pitch for Wisconsin as "Brian" mentioned in the comments thread. I was going off the same information I was given earlier in the week and obviously it's now later in the week (three or four days can fly by on this beat!) In fact, one of our football writers, Jose Romero, was covering the Seahawks in Green Bay yesterday and called me Friday to tell me he'd flown in on the plane with Baek. Not sure how that slipped my mind, but, oh well...thanks to Brian.

For "Shimon" regarding the Jose Guillen talks, I'd say his market value just went up with the two-year contract extension Jermaine Dye just got from the White Sox. Not going to be a whole lot of great corner outfielders out there this winter. Guillen is going to hit about 20-25 homers and drive in 100 this year. What will that be worth to him on the open market? What's he worth to the M's?

Know what deal really sent his price up? That three-year, $30-million extension given Eric Byrnes by the D-Backs two weeks ago. Guillen wants a three-year deal. And he'll probably get it from somebody this winter. At about $10 million per annum? Hey, with all his incentive targets he's bound to hit, Guillen's already going to make about $8 million off the M's this season barring a September disaster. Three years, $10 million ballpark on each sounds about right. Guillen has more RBI and just one fewer home run than Byrnes, who is also 31 just like him. In other words, there's no need for Guillen to rush to get a deal done any more. He was anxious to do things quickly three weeks ago, but that Byrnes deal just changed the landscape no doubt.

On to the post...

We mentioned a while ago that the days of the Mariners picking up four games per week in their playoff quest are long done. But today's 11-5 win by Seattle over a pretty bad Chicago White Sox team did give the M's a needed sweep that solidifies the minimal ground picked up over the past week.

Seattle arrived home from the recent road trip to Baltimore and Chicago trailing the first-place Angels by 3 1/2 and tied with the New York Yankees in the wild-card hunt. A decent 4-2 homestand, helped tremendously by the sweep, now sees the M's two games back of the Angels and a half-game up on the Yankees. Yes, my friends, every game, or half-game is important from here on in. One reason the M's picked up ground is that we're now, as some of you mentioned, at a key point in the schedule where several contenders play each other.

The Angels gained a hard-earned split of their four-game series with the Boston Red Sox today. Losing two of three in Toronto before that left the Angels a combined 3-4 on their current road trip, which is where the 1 1/2-game pick-up happened for Seattle.

As for New York, the Yankees just took three of four from the Detroit Tigers, pounding them in today's series finale at Yankee Stadium.

End result? There will be panic in the streets and radio airwaves of Boston tonight. My girlfriend, Amy, is actually flying there for work tonight, so I told her to keep an eye out for folks diving off buildings. She just flew in with me here to rainy Minneapolis (like Seattle today, only worse) and will catch her connecting flight shortly. Even gave up her upgraded first class seat to sit next to yours truly with all the baseball fans in coach. What more could a guy ask for? Larry LaRue, the fine Tacoma Tribune writer, was in the seat directly in front of mine and likely gagging as she and I played one of those song lyric games (pick a word and figure out how many songs have that word in their lyrics). But I digress (as have many of you politicos today, apparently. Makes me laugh to see interpretations of the First Ammendment continuously spouted erroneously by folks who sound like they're fresh out of their first Intro to Poli Sci class in Junior High School. Why give these people the time of day? They're obviously afraid to get into a serious baseball debate, so they roll around beneath it all in the gutter and proclaim themselves kings and queens of the sewer people).

Back to baseball, the Red Sox are only four games ahead in the AL East. While that is still a fairly comfortable lead (one I guarantee the Red Sox would have gladly taken for this date had it been offered back in spring training) it's a far cry from a 14 1/2 game lead. We discussed the historical proportions of this potential collapse back in this morning's post. One thing I will say, though, is that this isn't like that other race the Red Sox blew back in 1978. At least this time, if they blow it again, they'll still have a shot at the post-season.

A shot at Seattle's expense, perhaps. Do the M's truly have a half-game lead on the Yankees? Or do they trail Boston by 3 1/2 games in the "real" wild-card race. The reason I ask is, the Yankees have by far played the best baseball since the All-Star Break ended five weeks ago.

Here's how the AL contenders have looked since the break (I'd previously worked off standings that didn't include today's results and had left off the results of the last day prior to the break -- sorry).

New York -- 27-11
Boston -- 21-16
Seattle -- 20-16
Los Angeles --19-16
Cleveland -- 16-19
Detroit -- 15-23

That's right, the M's have gained a half-game of ground on the Angels in five weeks. They've also given up six games to the Yankees. But they've gained big on the Tigers. Gain much more ground on Detroit (Seattle is 2 1/2 games up) and the Tigers could slip into non-factor status in the wild-card. I'm not kidding. You don't want to be much more than three, maybe four back on Sept. 1. That's only another 11 days away. It's getting late early for some teams, especially those not playing good baseball for quite a while now.

The Yankees seem to have kicked things into overdrive. We'll see if they can sustain the pace, but as I've mentioned before, they always seem to in the second-half. Never dreamed they'd have a shot at 95 wins back in June. But that's just where they're headed at this clip.

So, once again, that could leave Seattle and Boston going at it for the wild-card, unless the Mariners can catch the Angels.

What a stretch we now see the M's heading into. A schedule-maker's dream and a potential players' nightmare for the Mariners. Survive this intact and -- in my book -- the Mariners can do anything. It starts tomorrow night against the Twins. Fortunately, the M's missed Johan Santana, who struck out a club record 17 this afternoon. But the Twins are 5-1 against the Mariners this season. Horacio Ramirez is pitching for his job tomorrow. Not because the M's are going to go out and get Jose Contreras. The asking price is still said to be too high and frankly, as we wrote yesterday, he doesn't appear to be enough of an upgrade.

David Wells apparently doesn't want to pitch in Seattle and, as we suggested last week, why would the M's want a 44-year-old, recently-failed NL West starter as an "upgrade"? The hitters in New York, Detroit and Cleveland are a lot tougher than in the NL West, I can tell you that. This isn't the 37-year-old Wells we're talking about any more. He's 44.

But we know that Ryan Feierabend is lurking down in Class AAA and I'd have to think he'd be called up if Ramirez implodes tomorrow. As we mentioned last week, Cha Seung Baek has yet to begin any rehabilitation assignments in the minors, so I'd think he'd be a mid-September addition at best (maybe a bit quicker if you rush him up).

After Minnesota, the M's get to face a Texas team that swept them in four games the last time the M's played in Arlington in late-July. Then, you've got a three-game homestand against the Angels, followed by a road trip to Cleveland for a makeup game, to Toronto for a series with a Blue Jays team that blanked the M's in two straight games a month ago, on to Yankee Stadium and then Comerica Park. Not to mention all the travel stress involved. This will be a killer stretch of games with just one day off towards the tail end.

This is the make-or-break point of the season. The M's have done very well to get this far and are now doing what contenders do by beating the also-ran clubs they have to in order to stay close. But the level of difficulty is about to shoot up dramatically and stay that way for weeks to come. Should be fun.

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