On Friday, the Seattle Mariners beat the Yankees 2-1 in 11 innings and were a half-game behind the Twins for the second wild card. They had improved to 5-2 on a brutal 12-game road trip and were hoping to stay close with James Paxton and Felix Hernandez on the DL. Four games later, it's been four straight losses and suddenly they're three games behind the Twins while also staring up at the Angels and Orioles.
Desperate times call for desperate trades, so the Mariners acquired starter Mike Leake from the St. Louis Cardinals along with cash and $750,000 in international cap space in exchange for minor league shortstop Rayder Ascanio. Leake, who is 7-12 with a 4.21 ERA, has struggled with an 8.88 ERA in August and a .375 batting average allowed. He'll make his Mariners debut this weekend against the A's, at which time he'll become the 17th starting pitcher that manager Scott Servais has used.
The Cardinals are still on the fringes of the playoff hunt, five games behind the Cubs in the National League Central and 5.5 games behind the Rockies for the second wild card, but with rookie Luke Weaver emerging in the rotation -- he's had back-to-back 10-strikeout starts -- the Cardinals decided Leake was expendable. It also gave them an opportunity to escape from the $53 million owed on Leake's contract the next three seasons. Even if they're paying down some of that money, it gives them more payroll flexibility and room to re-sign free-agent starter Lance Lynn.
In that regard, this deal is as much about 2018 and beyond for the Mariners as it is for 2017. They've managed to hang around .500 even though their top four projected starters -- Paxton, Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyly -- have combined for just 39 starts. General manager Jerry Dipoto has had to make multiple deals just to find starting pitchers to fill in. Leake isn't anything special, but at least he's durable, making 30-plus starts every season since 2012. At the minimum, he should provide the Mariners some much-needed stability in the future.
Adding Leake also gives the Mariners a deep well of starting pitching options for 2018: Paxton, Hernandez, Leake, Ariel Miranda, Marco Gonzales (also acquired from the Cardinals a few weeks ago), Erasmo Ramirez, Andrew Moore, maybe Iwakuma (the team holds a $10 million option on him), plus all those who have been up and down this season.
What's interesting is that while the M's have gone 12-14 in August entering Wednesday's game, the patchwork rotation isn't entirely to blame. I mean, it's partially to blame: Mariners starters have a 5.51 ERA in August while also throwing the fewest innings in the majors. But the offense hasn't been all that impressive either. They're 17th in the majors in runs per game in August, but they've also been shut out three times in their past nine games and only the White Sox among American League teams have hit fewer home runs in the month. Kyle Seager and Jean Segura have both struggled in August with sub-.300 OBPs while Ben Gamel, who was hitting .318 entering the month, has slumped to a .157 average.
Will Leake make a difference down the stretch? Probably not. Seattle's playoff odds entering Wednesday were 6.8 percent, according to FanGraphs. Assuming he pitches better than he has in August, he'll be an improvement over Gonzales or Andrew Albers or whoever gets bumped, but jumping past three teams might be too much to ask, even if Paxton and Hernandez can return in September. Returning home will help, as the Mariners begin a nine-game homestand on Friday, playing the A's, Astros and Angels. Go 7-2 and they're right back in it.