The Mariners are the luckiest team in baseball

Over a 162-game major league season, crazy things are going to happen. Teams will win games they should lose, and lose games they should win. That lengthy season does what it can to minimize those instances so that the best teams, not the luckiest, make the playoffs. It doesn’t always work out that way, and the Seattle Mariners may prove that yet again.

The American League West may be the toughest division going into action on Thursday. Four of the five teams are at .500 or better, and three of those teams are considered legitimate playoff contenders. Making it a little more interesting is the fact that this group also includes both the luckiest and unluckiest teams in Major League Baseball.

At the top of the West (for now) are the Seattle Mariners with a 38-23 record. Based on their pythagorean winning percentage, the M’s should only have 33 wins, which would knock them down to the bronze position. Why? It’s simple. They don’t score that much more than their opponents do.

So far, the Mariners have allowed 246 runs and scored only 267 runs. Those 267 runs are the worst in their division and right in the middle of the pack in all of MLB. That would normally mean a team is competitive but ultimately a pretender rather than a contender.

The reason Seattle has been able to keep punching with the big boys is their ability to win close games. Their 18-9 record in one-run games is far and away the best record in both the AL and NL. Same can be said for their perfect 6-0 record in games that have gone more than nine innings.

Is that knack for winning games close and late attributed to luck or is it a skill? Based on the stats, it sure looks like luck. Seattle’s relievers, the pitchers typically in games that close in the late innings, have a solid 3.57 ERA as a unit, but that’s only the eighth-best mark in baseball. The offense scores slightly more often in the seventh inning and later (they rank ninth in MLB in runs scored during that time), but not remarkably so. They have scored 39 runs in games that MLB has deemed “late/close”, which is the second-most runs in the league, but those have come in 326 at-bats, which is 21 more than any other team.

Even more interesting than that is which team has scored the most runs in “late/close” games. At the top of the sport in those instances, with 40 runs, are the Houston Astros. The defending champs are also the best at being unlucky.

As strange as it may sound, the ‘Stros should have more than the 38 wins they currently do. Their pythagorean win total is 44, which would give them the best record in the game, and that sounds about right.

Unlike their division rivals, the Astros are 4-12 in one run games and have gone 1-5 in games that go to extra innings. The reason for this is mostly at the feet of their bullpen. In late close games, the pitching staff has a 4.70 ERA. It’s odd because the Houston bullpen has thrown only 169 inning all season. Only the Indians firemen have appeared less. It would make sense that they are rested and before better in those tight situations, but it has not been the case.

There are still nearly two-thirds of the season left to play. Baseball does its best to eliminate these extreme cases of good and bad luck. Most of the time it works. If the Mariners want any chance at the postseason, they better hope it doesn’t.

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