Even the homerest of homer fans would probably admit that the 2001 Diamondbacks were not the best team in the majors that season. While by no means a bad team - those very rarely make the post-season - they were more the playoff team that got hot at the right spot. Of the teams that made it, only Cleveland (91) and Atlanta (88) had fewer regular season wins than Arizona's 92; that was actually fewer victories than the NL wild-card winner that year. Oakland won 102 games, but got Jeter'd in the first round and the Yankees would then take out the Mariners. Seattle won 116 games that year; a number never surpassed in the majors and 11 more than anyone has managed since.
So what might have happened if we had faced them in the World Series, rather than the Yankees?
How did the Mariners win that many? A perfect storm of circumstance. First, the best ERA in the league. They didn't have stellar starters like Randy and Curt, posting a sub-three ERA; Freddy Garcia led them with a 3.05 ERA, and Jamie Moyer next at 3.43. But they were very solid, with a 3.77 ERA; that was eleven points better than Arizona, and our starters did not face the DH. It was the bullpen where Seattle were stellar. Kazuhiro Sasaki saved 45 games, and Arthur Rhodes had a 1.72 ERA, matching Micah Owings by going 8-0. At the height of steroids, their relievers had a 3.04 ERA, more than a run better than league average (4.12) and well above the D-backs' 3.88.
On offense, the Mariners were just as good, with an OPS+ of 117, six points better than the second-placed Indians. Five of their regular starters had an OPS+ of above 120; Edgar Martinez (163) with his .966 OPS led the way, and he was joined by Bret Boone (153), John Olerud (136), Ichiro (126) and Mike Cameron (123); for Arizona, only Gonzo was at that level. Their .288 average was the best in the league, and Seattle were even better in the clutch, hitting .295 with runners in scoring position. The result was 5.72 runs per game - just three other teams in the American Leavgue even reaching an average of five.
When you outscore your opponents by almost two runs per game (5.72 to 3.87), you're going to win a lot of contests, but the projected Pythagorean record for the Mariners was "only" 109-53 - though even that would still be a number only matched by the 1998 Yankees during the past fifty seasons. The final piece in the jigsaw is that Seattle outperformed that expectation by seven games, thanks mostly to having the best record in the majors in one run games. The Mariners were 26-12 in those, probably in part to the stellar bullpen mentioned earlier. The team were tied after six innings on 29 occasions, and went 21-8 in those contests.
However, as the cliche goes, every team starts the post-season at 0-0. Seattle did get past Cleveland, though that victory required them to win two elimination games, and they were outscored 26-16 over the five games. The ALCS against the Yankees was the Mariners' Waterloo (or Leyte Gulf, if you want a more naval metaphor), with New York holding their offense to a .211 average and only 4.4 runs per game, as the Yankees prevailed in five. But what might have happened had they reached the World Series against the Diamondbacks?
As with torpedosneak's ongoing series, I'll be using the WhatIfSports.com SimMatchUp engine, with the D-backs having home-field advantage for two games, before the series shifts to Seattle. I've presumed the Mariners are fully rested, and went with a rotation of Garcia, Moyer, Aaron Sele and Paul Abbott. There's no doubt that Arizona's 1-2 punch give them an edge in the pitching match-ups there - but will this be enough to overcome Seattle's impressive offense?
1. Ichiro Suzuki LF
2. John Olerud 1B
3. Bret Boone 2B
4. Mike Cameron CF
5. Mark Mclemore RF
6. David Bell 3B
7. Dan Wilson C
8. Carlos Guillen SS
1. Tony Womack SS
2. Jay Bell 2B
3. Luis Gonzalez LF
4. Matt Williams 3B
5. Mark Grace 1B
6. Reggie Sanders RF
7. Steve Finley CF
8. Damian Miller C
Game 1. Freddie Garcia vs. Curt Schilling. Mariners 1, Diamondbacks 4 - BOXSCORE
Schilling was imperious, throwing a complete game and striking out 14 Mariners, as the D-backs struck first at BOB. He scattered nine hits but walked none, and the only damage allowed was in the top of the third when an Olerud single drove in Ichiro, who had legged out an infield hit and stolen second. The lead was short lived, as Luis Gonzalez had a two-run single in the bottom half, with RBI singles by Matt Williams and Mark Grace completing the scoring in the fifth. Arizona took advantage of Garcia's wildness - he walked seven - and came through in the clutch, while Seattle were held to one hit with runners in scoring position.
Game 2. Jamie Moyer vs. Randy Johnson. Mariners 1, Diamondbacks 4 - BOXSCORE
Same again? Not quite, but the end result was. The Big Unit left after eight innings, having held Seattle to four hits, with a dozen strikeouts. Jay Bell had a two-run homer in the third to give Arizona the lead for good, with Williams adding an RBI single in the fifth, and Damian Miller homering in the sixth. Johnson took a shutout into the ninth, before allowing his fourth walk and an RBI double to Mark McLemore, who had two of Seattle's four hits. With the tying run on deck, Arizona summoned Byung-Hyun Kim who quelled any thoughts of drama, retiring the next three batters to give the D-backs a 2-0 lead as they head for the NorthWest.
Game 3: Brian Anderson vs. Aaron Sele. Diamondbacks 5, Mariners 7 - BOXSCORE
Seattle got on the board, tagging Anders for six runs in 4.2 innings, using the long-ball with homers off him by Bell, Boone and Cameron, the last two going yard back-to-back in the bottom of the fourth. That broke a 2-2 tie, Arizona having leveled things on a two-run single by Grace. The Mariners scored three two-out runs in the fifth, to make the lead 7-2, although the D-backs fought back with three of their own in the seventh. Damian Miller K'd with the tying run on base there, and also made the final out in the ninth, also with two men aboard. AZ still leads 2-1.
Game 4: Robert Ellis vs. Paul Abbott. Diamondbacks 5, Mariners 10 - BOXSCORE
The home team showed why their offense was the best in the American League, pounding out 16 hits and chasing Ellis before the end of the first - Miguel Batista wasn't listed as a starter, but did work two scoreless innings in relief. Olerud and McLemore each had a trio of hits, with the latter driving in four runs, as Seattle took an 8-2 lead by the end of the second inning, and cruised to victory from there. Abbott got the W, allowing four earned runs in 5.2 innings, with Finley going 2-for-4 with three driven in, as the series got locked up at two.
Game 5: Curt Schilling vs. Freddie Garcia. Diamondbacks 1, Mariners 3 - BOXSCORE
Schilling pitched his second complete game of the World Series, but this time, came out on the losing end. Back-to-back long balls from Martnez and Olerud in the first gave Seattle a lead they would never relinquish, though Schilling struck out another 11. Olerud clubbed a second homer in the fifth, and Garcia went the distance for the Mariners, the Diamondbacks managing only five hits, two of them by Miller, with Finley's RBI single in the second the only score for the visitors. The series returns to Arizona, with Seattle now 3-2 up.
Game 6: Jamie Moyer vs. Randy Johnson. Mariners 6, Diamondbacks 2 - BOXSCORE
There would be no Game 7 heroic in this simulation. Indeed, there would be no Game 7 at all, as the D-backs bullpen melted down, after Johnson had held things together, leaving after seven with the score tied at two. Up until then, here's the line which stood out:
M.Grace bloops one that ricochets into the rightfield corner that goes for a solo, inside-the-park homerun.
Yeah. About that... Well, it is just a simulation... In the 8th, the first three Mariners reached, off Greg Swindell and Bret Prinz, Cameron's single giving Seattle the lead. Boone's three-run shot off Troy Brohawn in the ninth was merely icing, as the Mariners won their first-ever World Series. Shame it's a virtual one. Or not, from our perspective.
These are just one-off games, and anything can happen - Gracey hitting an inside-the-parker pretty much proves that! So please don't treat this as any kind of definitive answer as to how the series might have played out. In particular, maybe it would have been different if Arizona had started Schilling on short rest in Game 4, as they did against the Yankees. Of course, we'll never know the answer. And that's half the fun.