The possibilities are abundant. For the final By the Numbers column of the season (we need to make way for high school football, you know), the baseball season has provided a cornucopia of story lines heading into the stretch run.
There’s Mike Trout of the Angels, who might be having the best season of any 21-year-old in the history of the sport.
There’s the possibility of not only the Washington Nationals making the playoffs, but the Pittsburgh Pirates, as well, which could very well be the seventh sign of the Apocalypse.
And there’s the fascinating issue of the Nationals promising to shut down pitcher Stephen Strasburg after 160 innings, the playoffs be darned.
But for the final baseball column of the season, we would be remiss to ignore the suddenly resurgent Seattle Mariners.
After standing 15 games under .500 just a month ago, the Mariners have thrust themselves into contention for a wild-card spot. They have become darn near unbeatable at home. They have made baseball interesting again in Seattle.
As esteemed columnist Art Thiel says, Seattle was never a bad baseball town; Seattle was a town of bad baseball. This season has encapsulated that all in one summer.
But as the Mariners become the talk of the town again, one lingering question remains: What if they had the foresight to give up on Ichiro and Justin Smoak when they should have?
For most of the season, as with the past couple years, the Mariners have been bedeviled by a historically bad offense. And through the first 100 games of 2012, Ichiro and Smoak were two of the primary culprits.
Despite occupying two primary offensive positions — right field and first base — through July 23, Ichiro and Smoak had combined for 0.2 Wins Above Replacement. That suggests that the Mariners could have picked up two players out of a slow-pitch softball league and received essentially the same production.
On that July day, Ichiro was granted his request for a trade, being sent to the Yankees, and Smoak was sent to Triple-A (he recently was recalled as an injury replacement). It’s no coincidence that Seattle won 19 of its next 28 games.
All of which means that if the Mariners fall a couple games short of the playoffs, they can curse the backward thinking that kept Ichiro and Smoak in the lineup about two months too long.
Ichiro was in the final year of a five-year deal that paid him $18 million a year, a contract that was absurd when it was offered and proved to be an albatross for the club. He was an icon in Seattle, a status that prevented the franchise from replacing him when it should have two years ago.
Smoak was a once highly regarded hitter who was the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee trade and left the Mariners desperate to demonstrate they got something of value in exchange for one of the best pitchers in the game. Smoak has yet to demonstrate that he is a major-league hitter, despite being given plenty of opportunities.
Seattle isn’t the only team that has struggled with balancing high-priced talent or high expectations with the reality of performance. Boston, for example, has received scant return on the $142 million contract it gave to Carl Crawford, yet that deal compels them to play him when he’s healthy.
But if the Mariners continue to make a late-season push, it will be natural for fans to wonder what took them so long.
Question or comment for By the Numbers? You can reach Greg Jayne, Sports editor of The Columbian, at 360-735-4531, or online at email@example.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne