4:10 PM EST, ROOT – Line: Seattle – 202
On the last day of the 2014 Regular Season, the final Wild Card birth in the American League is still to be decided, with the Seattle Mariners fighting for their postseason lives against the Los Angeles Angels. This is indeed a dicey situation for the Mariners (86-75), who need a victory today coupled with an Athletics’ loss to return to the Playoffs for the first time since 2001. After all, Los Angeles has already clinched the top seed in the American League, meaning that they have virtually nothing to play for other than the fact that they will face whomever emerges from the Wild Card contest. Lloyd McClendon’s team nearly found themselves out of the picture altogether, thanks to an awful stretch in September in which they lost twelve of seventeen games, but three consecutive victories along with Oakland’s incredible decline have made today’s scenario possible. Oh, and did we fail to mention that the M’s will be sending ERA-leader Felix Hernandez (14-6, 2.14 ERA) to the mound in this most crucial of matchups?
After a dismal five-game losing streak that saw them lose by an average of 6.6 runs, Seattle has strung together three straight wins, including each of the first two against the AL-leading Angels in this three-game Regular Season Finale. To say that McClendon’s club is hanging on by a thread would an understatement; Friday they very nearly blew a 4-0 lead while staving off a furious rally in a 4-3 victory, while Saturday they came back fro a 0-1 whole in the Eleventh Inning to stay alive with a 2-1 triumph. In an example of outstanding coincidence, after it was announced at Safeco Field that the Athletics fell to the Rangers, First Baseman Logan Morrison promptly tied the game with an RBI Double in the Seventh Inning. Finally, with two outs in the Eleventh and runners at the corners, Centerfielder Austin Jackson grounded into a potential double-play, but beat out the throw at First Base, allowing Brad Miller to reach home. The Mariners used seven different arms Saturday Night, with James Paxton (6-4, 3.04 ERA) working the first 5.2 innings yielding just one run on four hits, with as many strikeouts and three walks. Afterwards, it was a host of relievers, concluding with Dominic Leone (8-2, 2.17 ERA) earning the win. Now with Hernandez on the bump, the possibility of getting to the Playoffs has become more and more likely; King Felix is 2-0 with a scant 0.94 ERA in four starts against Los Angeles this season, racking up an astounding 40 strikeouts in 28.2 innings of labor in those meetings. In fact, he K’d eleven Angels back on September 18th, a 3-1 Mariners’ victory.
Meanwhile, what exactly is there to play for the Angels (98-63)? Mike Scioscia’s club has clinched the AL West along with the No. One Overall Seed in the Playoffs, thanks to the best record in the Majors. As a result, they have returned to the Playoffs for the first time since 2009, and are arguably the heavy favorite to return to the World Series for the first time since 2002. It’s been quite the campaign for the Halos, who overcame a a slow 31-28 start filled with a litany of injuries, only to catch fire afterward going 15-10 in June, followed by an 18-8 record in July, a 19-10 mark in August and most recently 15-10 this month. Of course, Oakland’s epic collapse has helped expedite matters, but the reality hasn’t changed, for Los Angeles has finally figured things out, riding a wave of momentum into October. So what exactly is there for them to gain in today’s contest?
Well, maybe, just maybe, they would prefer that today is the last time that they see Felix Hernandez, at least until the Calendar says it’s 2015. Or perhaps Scioscia wants to get some of his more inexperienced players some reps, while simultaneously granting some of his ailing stars the luxury of rest. After all, First Baseman Albert Pujols tweaked his hamstring last week, while Leftfielder Josh Hamilton continues to rest an assortment of injuries, including his shoulder, chest, and neck. That approach pertains tot he Pitching Staff too, for Matt Shoemaker (16-4, 3.04 ERa) will be give today off as he rests a strained oblique, leading to utility man Cory Rasmus (3-1, 2.38 ERA) making his sixth start, after making his first 24 appearances in relief. The former Reliever moved into the rotation after young ace Garrett Richards (13-4, 2.61 ERA) went down with a season-ending knee injury. Scioscia, a former catcher, knows just how to manage his arms, preferring to ease Rasmus into the rotation keeping his innings to a minimum. So needless to say, the rest of the Bullpen will see plenty of work today; the young right-hander hasn’t lasted longer than four innings in any of his starts, which was the case last Sunday, when he permitted just a pair of hits in a 2-1 loss. Rasmus hasn’t faced Seattle since July 18th, a 3-2 victory in which he threw 2.1 scoreless innings