1. How to lose a division in 19 days, starring the Seattle Mariners
It wasn't long ago -- July 5, to be exact -- that Seattle was a .500 ballclub within striking distance of a clumped-together AL West. In third place but just 2 ½ games out, the Mariners were about to play one more game in a series with last-place Oakland before starting a pair of four-game series against the Angels and Rangers, the two teams they were chasing in the division. So began the losing streak.
Seattle's timing was especially poor, as its losing streak overlapped with the Rangers winning 12 straight games and the Angels winning 11 of 13. The Mariners are now in last place, 15 ½ games behind the first-place Rangers, and quite clearly now trade deadline sellers instead of possible buyers.
"It seems like once again it's Groundhog Day," shortstop Brendan Ryan told the Associated Press after Sunday's loss. "This is definitely frustrating. There aren't too many laughs now. There shouldn't be."
2. Losing 16 straight games isn't easy
The Mariners' skid has put them near some infamous company. The record for longest losing streak by either an AL or NL team is 24, held by the NL's Cleveland Spiders in 1899. The record since World Series play began in 1903 is 23 games, held by the 1961 Phillies.
Since 1903 there have been only 21 streaks of at least 16 games, according to my research on Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index. The Mariners, who have been in existence since 1977, now have their first such streak, though 17 of the 30 major-league franchises still have never lost that many in a row. (One of those 14, the Pirates, had a 23-game losing streak in 1890.)
With a heavy assist to Baseball-Reference.com, here are the longest losing streaks in each active franchise's history with the number of 15-game losing streaks for each, in the World Series era of 1903-11 (ties are excluded):
3. All parties share the blame
Seattle's lineup hasn't exactly scored runs in abundance all season, but its production has been worse during the past month and especially in the past two weeks. The Mariners had been scoring only 3.4 runs per game, so having that rate fall to 2.7 doesn't seem severe, until one remembers that's a 20.6 percent decrease from such a small starting point.
The run-prevention unit -- i.e. the pitchers and fielders -- had been stellar all season in limiting opponents to the same 3.4 runs-per-game rate, though they have really struggled during this losing streak. The Mariners have been allowing 6.1 runs per game, a staggering 79.4 percent increase.
Here are the changes in Seattle's offensive and defensive statistics since the losing streak began on July 6:
The offensive drop-off appears to be primarily the result of the team walking almost half as often as it had been before the losing streak; the pitching numbers, on the other hand, are worse across the board. But it's important to remember that, though the pitching is struggling more, it's also the group that had carried the Mariners through their first 86 games.
4. The Mariners' offensive woes aren't confined to the losing streak
Their struggles started about three weeks before the skid and until scoring eight runs on Sunday, the Mariners hadn't scored more than six runs in a game since June 13. That stretch of 34 straight games is the fifth-longest such streak of scoring futility in baseball since 1990, trailing the 2010 Pirates (46 games), 2008 Athletics (40), 2001 Mets (38) and 2008 Blue Jays (35).
In one sense, however, Seattle's was the worst of those, as it had the worst average runs per game (2.44 runs). The longest streak, the Pirates' 46-gamer, actually featured about a half-run more offense per game (2.93).
5. A difficult road still lies ahead
The Mariners have eight more chances to avoid setting a new record for futility in baseball's modern age, but it won't be easy. They still have two more games with the Yankees in the Bronx. The M's took two of three from New York at Safeco Field in late May, but the circumstances here are different. The Yankees own the AL's third-best home record (33-20), and the Mariners have the league's fourth-worst road record (18-32).
After that series, Seattle has Thursday off before going home to face the Rays for a three-game weekend set to close out its month of misery. The Mariners won't face a below-.500 team until Oakland follows Tampa Bay into Seattle for a series that and that's followed by three more tough tests that will have Ryan feeling deja vu all over again: road series against the second-place Angels and first-place Rangers, who handed the Mariners the first two of what are now four consecutive series sweeps, and then home for three with the AL-leading Red Sox, who just finished their own three-game sweep of Seattle. Which means even if the Mariners' streak ends, their tough times may not.