The Oakland A’s reached the ALCS in 2006. They won the AL West division title that year, with a 93-69 record.
The 2006 A’s held their own against the other top contenders that summer, but one factor padding their overall win total was a 17-2 mark against the Seattle Mariners. They played each other 19 times, and Oakland took all but two of them.
Without that lopsided matchup, the A’s went 76-67 against the rest of the league. That’s still pretty good, but not quite division title good, more like an 86-win pace. They finished four games ahead of the second-place Angels (89 wins), so Oakland’s dominance of the Mariners played a big role in the outcome — and the Wild Card was out of the question at 95 wins, to the Tigers in the AL Central.
The Halos had won the West the two previous seasons, and would again the next three in a row, so they might have had a six-year reign over the division if not for the A’s thumping Seattle so hard in 2006.
What’s more, the Mariners weren’t a bad team that summer. They finished in last place, but they were only a few games under .500 at 78-84. Oakland didn’t beat up on a doormat, they weirdly dominated a solid division rival. In fact, against all other opponents, Seattle went ... 76-67, the same as the A’s.
What if the pendulum had swung the other way? If Seattle had stormed Oakland instead, maybe it would have been them going to the 2006 playoffs. Their offense and pitching were both above-average against the rest of the league, their lineup had a pair of future Hall of Famers in Ichiro Suzuki and Adrian Beltre, and their deep veteran rotation was led by superstar Felix Hernandez. Why not them? They won 88 games the next year.
But A’s starters Barry Zito, Dan Haren, Joe Blanton, and Rich Harden combined to go 12-0 with a 1.47 ERA, and the hitters went off at the plate behind Nick Swisher, Marco Scutaro, Jay Payton, Jason Kendall, and future HOFer Frank Thomas. Oakland outscored them 124-64, something like a 6-3 average per game, including four shutouts and two other double-digit blowouts.
The Mariners still haven’t made the postseason since then. They’ve put up seasons of 88, 85, 87, 86, and 89 victories, but missed the cut every time — in 2014, they fell short of the Second Wild Card by one game, behind the A’s. Seattle’s last trip to October came in 2001, two decades ago, by far the longest playoff drought in the four major U.S. sports. The A’s have gone six times in the last decade.
Here in the East Bay, we think we’ve got it tough because we can’t get past repeated nemeses like Detroit and Boston and New York to win a postseason series. Up north, they haven’t been able to get past Oakland to even reach the postseason in the first place.
DID YOU KNOW in the #Mariners 44 years of existence they have experienced more ruptured testicles (five) than playoff appearances (four)?— Danny O'Neil (@dannyoneil) October 1, 2021
In 2021, the pendulum finally swung the other way.
This year wasn’t the first time the Mariners came out on top. In both 2007 and 2009 they went 14-5 in the season series, but it didn’t make much difference either time. Oakland was mediocre anyway, and Seattle didn’t reach the playoffs even with the boost.
But this time around, the stars were aligned for another meaningful clash. Both clubs were in the Wild Card chase, so when the Mariners went 15-4 against the A’s, it was enough to knock Oakland out of the race entirely and propel Seattle back into it. The Mariners reeled in the final dozen meetings between them, including seven in the span of 10 days down the stretch in mid/late September.
With two games to go in the campaign, the Mariners are 89-71, while the A’s are 86-74. Against the rest of the league, Seattle is 74-67, while Oakland is 82-59. Flip five of those games, with the Mariners winning “only” 10-of-19, and the A’s would be in the First Wild Card position right now. There are lots of reasons why there wont be an Oaktober this year as the team was far from perfect, but mathematically speaking, the futility against Seattle made the difference on its own.
And it’s not just a hindsight consideration, as if the losses all came back in June before we knew they would matter. The A’s still had a chance entering Sept. 20, riding a five-game winning streak. All they needed was exactly the kind of late-season magic that we see them pull all the time, and that they were currently in the middle of brewing. But the Mariners stopped them in their tracks with a four-game sweep at the Coliseum. When Oakland rebounded to sweep the first-place Astros and stay alive, Seattle swept them again to officially eliminate them.
A’s last 25 games.— Brodie Brazil (@BrodieNBCS) September 30, 2021
After beating Houston again on Friday, the A’s have won their last nine non-Mariners games, against three different opponents. What might have been, if not for their pesky Poseidon’s heel?
Making it even more tantalizing is how close the matchup really was. Whereas the 2006 A’s had thoroughly walloped Seattle, the 2021 Mariners won six of their games by just one run, and another five by two runs. Oakland was only outscored 87-70, an average of a little over 4-3. Two of the losses came on blown saves, and two others came on blown ties in the 7th and 9th innings respectively. Flip just those four results, and the A’s are tied for the Second Wild Card.
Instead, it’s the Mariners competing for the postseason in the final days of the summer, while the A’s play out the string before heading home for the winter. The current players probably aren’t thinking about the history of 2006, if they’re even aware of it at all, and if there’s any revenge narrative on their minds then it’s the one surrounding comments made by Oakland pitcher Cole Irvin in May.
But on a cosmic franchise level, this is payback. In 2006 the A’s used Seattle as a stepladder to the playoffs, and now 15 years later the wheel has turned and it’s time to pay the toll, with the Mariners directly snatching away from Oakland the potential for a 2021 berth.
Chris Bassitt: "Going into this year, I don't know how many people on either team would have said the Mariners are better than us. But the game is proving otherwise."— Martín Gallegos (@MartinJGallegos) September 29, 2021