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The Giants will have to overcome their road record and James Paxton

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Nobody cares about a Giants-Mariners matchup, but it matters because both teams need these wins.

Chicago White Sox v Seattle Mariners Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The last time the Giants faced the Mariners, Joe Panik had scored all the runs for the team and Robinson Cano had yet to be suspended for PED use. Gorkys Hernández homered off of Félix Hernández in the Giants’ one win of that 2-game series at AT&T Park, and little did we know that it was a portent of their seasons: King Félix has had the worst season of his career and Gorkys his best.

It was also a portent of both team’s seasons: the Mariners have received a lot of surprising performances to bolster their place in the standings while the Giants have needed every player on the roster to contribute 110% of their ability to maintaining a .500 record.

Both teams are in a playoff hunt, though you could argue that the Mariners’ 2.5 game lead on the A’s for 2nd Wild Card and 60-40 overall record means they’re doing a lot better than the Giants in that arena. Add to that, in the continuum of which team needs this more, it’s the Giants who need both of these wins more than the Mariners do, but the Mariners will certainly want them more.

They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2001. It’s the longest drought in baseball. They won 116 games and got knocked out by the Yankees, who went on to lose the World Series to the Diamondbacks. Here’s everything I can think of that’s happened since the Mariners were last in the playoffs:

  • The Giants lost the World Series
  • MLB.tv debuted
  • Barry Bonds was intentionally walked 120 times in a single season
  • The Mariners signed Richie Sexson to a 4-year, $50 million contract
  • Judd Apatow, Steve Carrell, and Seth Rogen became household names from The 40 Year Old Virgin, a movie that changed the studio comedy forever (for better or worse)
  • The Mission: Impossible franchise was resuscitated
  • Twitter launched,sealing humanity’s fate
  • Netflix begins streaming content, but it would be nearly two years before “Netflix and chill” became a thing
  • Barry Bonds became the all-time home run leader
  • The Giants drafted Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, and Brandon Belt (not all at once, but, you know, over a period of time)
  • The Tampa Bay Devil Rays became the Tampa Bay Rays
  • The Giants won the World Series
  • The 49ers signed Jim Harbaugh
  • The Giants won the World Series
  • The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl
  • The Giants won the World Series
  • The Seahawks lost the Super Bowl and the world rejoiced
  • The Giants lost 98 games in a single season
  • Jerry DiPoto made 65+ trades since 2015
  • Felix Hernandez went from incredible to bad
  • Ichiro left at age 38 and rejoined the organization at age 44

Thing is, plenty has happened since the Mariners were last in the postseason and that’s definitely fueling the organization’s desire to get back there. The Giants will simply be in their way for this 2-game series in Seattle.

As our Kenny Kelly wrote over at Beyond the Box Score today:

The Mariners are 60-40 after 100 games, and they have a 2.5-game lead on the Oakland Athletics for the second Wild Card spot. And yet, Baseball Prospectus’s adjusted playoff odds only give them a 25.7% chance of ending their 17-year playoff drought.

...

In July, the Mariners are 7-9 and they’ve been outscored 51-71. They could still consider themselves lucky their record isn’t worse than that. They’ve scored the fewest runs of any team this month, and that’s even after scoring eight on Sunday. The Rangers are the next closest team at 57 runs. As a team, the Mariners are hitting just .232/.290/.354 for an 80 wRC+ in July.

They’re 60-40 despite a run differential of +1 (423 runs scored, 422 runs allowed) which, on paper, suggests that they’re significantly over-performing, and their 2nd and 3rd order projections (which seek to classify the quality of wins and define the degree a team has exceeded or deceeded expected performance) reinforce this notion.

The Giants, on the other hand, have a negative run differential, which alone suggests that they should have a losing record, but those 2nd and 3rd-order standings/projections suggest that the Giants are actually right where they should be, based on the types of wins and losses they’ve had.

They’ll throw rookies Andrew Suarez and To Be Announced at the Mariners for these two games before heading back to San Francisco to take on the Brewers for 4 games. The Mariners’ lineup hits lefties better than righties so this could very well be Suarez’s toughest challenge yet.

Pitcher(s) to watch: The Mariners will activate lefty ace James Paxton to start game 1, which automatically gives them an advantage. The Giants have not been good against left-handed pitching this season. If you’re unfamiliar with him, he’s 29 years old and has struck out 155 in 119.1 innings. He has six pitches (four-seam fastball, cutter, sinker, changeup, slider, curveball), but is primarily a fastball-curveball pitcher. That fastball has an average speed of 95.5 mph.

Wednesday’s starter is Mike Leake, whom you may recall as being the dude who gave up Albert Pujols’ 3,000th hit and was a Giant for 9 starts at the end of the ill-fated 2015 season. He’s been below average this season (95 ERA+) and has struck out only 75 in 121.2 innings (for comparison: Suarez has 82 in 89 innings). This means it could go either way for the Giants — this could be the game they win or the game that secures the Mariners’ sweep. They’ve managed to get to below averages pitchers this season, but Leake has two things working in is favor: he’s a crafty sinkerballer and he used to be a Giant.

Hitter(s) to watch: Mariners manager and former Giant Scott Servais hasn’t made Denard Span a strict platoon player, so there’s a chance he starts both games of the series. Henry Schulman wrote about Span’s travails this season, beginning with the Giants trade of him to the Rays in the offseason, and on some level, you feel bad for the guy because of all the moving around, but then you realize it’s a business and you figure the players are probably taking it well overall (though I’m sure he has his moments), and then you look at what he’s done since joining the Mariners and can’t help but think, “Hey! Where was that?”

His .805 OPS in 41 games exceeds his 2-season performance with the Giants (.732 OPS in 272 games), but it also seems like he’s settled in a lot better. Since the start of July, he’s posted a line of .304 / .353 / .500 in 51 plate appearances and only a .317 BAbip. He might not be consciously looking for “revenge”, but I’m sure he’ll take it if it comes.

Prediction: The Giants need these games more than the Mariners do, but the Giants have been dreadful on the road (20-31). The Mariners are 33-18 (.647) at home. The Giants are 7-10 in July while the Mariners are 7-9. Hmm. All signs point to a sweep, but let’s say a split.