The Seattle Mariners own a 63-55 record, which puts them just one game behind the Detroit Tigers for the second wild card spot. Their playoff odds sit at 36.5 percent. It would be their first playoff berth since 2001, when they won an American League record 116 games. That squad featured Bret Boone, Ichiro Suzuki, Mike Cameron and Edgar Martinez, with Freddy Garcia leading the pitching staff. This M’s team is led by pitching star Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano.
Hernandez currently leads the major leagues in fWAR with 6.2. He’s made 16 consecutive starts of at least seven innings while allowing two runs or fewer. Overall he possesses a 1.95 ERA with strikeout and walk rates of 28.3 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively. In addition, he’s boosted his ground ball rate to 56.1 percent, which is his best mark since 2007.
After several seasons of seeing his fastball velocity decline, Hernandez has added a little more heat. He’s averaging 92.5 miles per hour with his fastball, up a little more than a mile per hour from last year. King Felix was devastating with a lesser fastball, with the added velocity, he’s that much more difficult to hit. His best pitch however is his changeup, which he throws in the 88-90 range. The change owns an 18.8 percent whiff rate, and when batters do make contact, 68.5 percent of the balls in play have been hit on the ground.
With the recent exception of Justin Verlander in 2011, pitchers are rarely considered as serious MVP candidates. With his outstanding season, a possible M’s playoff berth and string of “Super Quality” starts, King Felix might change that. This was supposed to be the year Mike Trout finally brought home the MVP, but Hernandez’ remarkable season might get in the way.
Cano got off to a rather pedestrian start to the season. Through the first 44 games of the season the second baseman had just one home run. His .322 batting average and .372 on-base percentage were very good, but the M’s expected more than a .408 slugging percentage in the first year of a 10 year deal worth $240 million. Since May 20, Cano has been on an extended tear. The 31 year-old second baseman owns a .340/.421/.521 batting line with nine home runs.
Overall Cano is having an excellent year. He ranks 6th among position players in fWAR with 4.8. Cano is 3rd in batting average and 4th in on-base percentage. His ten home runs might not be much to speak about, but his .333/.402/.476 batting line comes out to a 144 wRC+, which is a shade higher than the 142 mark he posted with the New York Yankees last season. Projections have Cano finishing with a little more than 6 fWAR. It’s been a different kind of season for Cano, who hit at least 25 home runs in every season from 2009-13, but he’s made up for the lower home run rate by trimming his already low strikeout totals and posting a .357 in-play batting average.
The Mariners are running a stars-and-scrubs model. They have three of the top players of 2014 in Hernandez, Cano and Kyle Seager. At the same time, they’ve given significant playing time to Endy Chavez, Abraham Almonte and James Jones. Acquiring Austin Jackson at the deadline will give their lineup more depth, but Cano and Hernandez are carrying this team.