Series Preview: Cleveland Indians at Seattle Mariners

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And just like that, the Indians find themselves in the midst of yet another losing streak. So far it’s only five games, but one can’t help but wonder how long this one is going to last. And what, if anything, are the Indians going to do to try to right the ship? What can they do to put stop to this one before it runs to double digits? Aren’t the Indians concerned about the emotional state of their broadcast teams? Poor Tom Hamilton sounds like he’s giving the play-by-play of a prison league softball game at this point, and anyone who watches Arrested Development knows how that will turn out.

Thanks to their prolonged struggles the Indians now find themselves staring up not only at the White Sox and Tigers, but also the suddenly red hot Kansas City Royals. If they aren’t careful they might even fall all the way into the AL Central cellar behind the Twins. And then what? Can the Indians afford to not make substantial changes to a team that had such high expectations and went so catastrophically wrong? Is it going to be more of the same next season? All are valid questions, but in the meantime the Seattle Mariners are the primary concern.

The Mariners come into tonight’s game red hot. Unlike the Indians, they’ve won five games in a row and seven out of their past ten. They’ve even managed to leapfrog the Indians in the wildcard standings. That’s not to say they’re actually in contention at 8.5 games out, but did anyone expect Seattle to be above the Indians in the standings come mid-August? Not at all. It just goes to show you that it’s less about how you start and more about how you finish a season that counts.

So how have the Mariners done it? While they’re still one of the worst offensive teams in all of baseball, they counter that with one of the best pitching staffs in the game despite what their records might have you believe. Currently the Mariners rank ninth in ERA, second in WHIP, and fourth in batting average against. Their run differential is only -2 even though they’ve scored the fewest runs in the AL (478), because they’ve given up the third-fewest (480). If the Mariners could put together any resemblance of an efficient offense they could be a team to contend with in the AL.

And that’s what the Mariners hope they’re doing. With a young core that includes the likes of Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak, and Kyle Seager, the M’s are building for what looks like a bright future. Things haven’t gone particularly well this season, but all of the aforementioned players have made positive strides, as has the team management. The trade of Ichiro Suzuki prior to the trade deadline shows that the Mariners are done hanging on to past successes and looking to the future. They’ve put all their eggs in the basket of this young nucleus, and now it is up to them to the new guys to reward management for their faith in them.

Preferably, those rewards need to happen sooner rather than later. Felix Hernandez, arguably one of the top five pitchers in all of baseball, isn’t going to remain patient forever. How much longer can he deal with being on a sub-.500 team as he enters the prime of his career? Even more pressing of an issue is how will the Mariners afford to keep him in Seattle. Making the jump to the next level of contender would be a start, and if the Mariners have their way that will happen next year.

It’s a stark contrast to where the Indians currently find themselves. This year was full of excitement and potential. Now…who knows? We’ve been left with more questions than answers. Is our core everything that it needs to be? Is Manny Acta the right man for the job? Will the Indians spend the money this offseason to improve? It just keeps going and going. Meanwhile, all around the AL teams like the Royals, Twins, and Mariners are seeing positive developments heading into 2013 and answering some of their own questions in the process.

So while the Indians may be out of contention in both the Central and the Wildcard, don’t be fooled—these games mean something. It’s these games heading down the home stretch that are going to help determine who stays and who goes. They’re the building blocks for what should be the 2013 Indians. How they respond to the adversity in front of them now can help them become a title contending team in the future. Or they can have another 11-game losing streak. Whatever works.