As a longtime Seattle sports fan, I’m quite familiar with underachieving teams. If you look up the record for fewest yards in an NFL football game, for instance, you’ll find the Seattle Seahawks listed there. Seattle concluded the 1979 season ranked fourth in the league in scoring but on November 4 they finished with an incredible -7 yards in offense in an embarrassing 24-0 loss to the Los Angeles Rams (on the plus side the game featured plenty of offense as the Rams accumulated 29 first downs, 303 yards rushing and 475 yards overall).
In pro basketball, the Seattle Super Sonics won 63 games in 1994 before becoming the first #1 seed to lose to a #8 seed in NBA playoffs history. It’s happened since but they were the first.
Then there were the 2001 Seattle Mariners. They tied the 1906 Chicago Cubs as the only team to win 116 games in a season and won their division by 14 games over a very good Oakland team.
The chinks in their armor started to appear in the Divisional Series against Cleveland. They were shutout 5-0 at home in game one, rebounded in game two then were routed in game three when the series moved to Cleveland. They fought back to win the series in five games.
When it came time to play the New York in the ALCS, they were on the verge of falling apart. They lost the first two games at home, managing to score just 4 runs on 10 hits. The series then moved to the Big Apple for the next three games.
Seattle shellacked the Yankees, 14-3, in the third game of the series then lost game four. In the decisive fifth game, they trailed 9-0 after six innings before eventually losing 12-3. Of the 11 teams with the most regular season wins in Major League Baseball history the Mariners are alone as the only team to not make it to the World Series.
The fourth team on that list, right behind the 1998 Yankees (who rolled through the postseason), are the 1954 Cleveland Indians, who won 111 games and lost just 43 (which works out to a higher winning percentage than Seattle). The Indians pitching staff featured four future Hall of Famers: Early Wynn, Bob Lemon, Bob Feller and reliever, Hal Newhouser. Toss in outfielder, Larry Doby, and they boasted five future Hall of Famers in all.
The New York Giants featured just three future Hall of Fame players, but one of them was named Willie Mays and it proved more than enough. The Giants swept the Indians in the World Series, outscoring them 21-9 over the four games.
A glutton for punishment, I decided I’d pit Seattle against Cleveland in a seven game series then, as was the case in an earlier match-up featuring 1927 New York against 1929 Philadelphia, I’d extend it to 20 games and see who came out on top.
Despite their lack of postseason success, both teams compiled impressive statistics. Led by Edgar Martinez, Ichiro Suzuki, Bret Boone, and John Olerud Seattle boasted a powerful offense that averaged 5.72 runs a game, best in the majors. Freddy Garcia (18-6, 3.05 ERA), Jamie Moyer (20-6, 3.43 ERA) and Aaron Sele (15-5, 3.60 ERA) anchored a strong starting rotation and Kazuhiro Sasaki (45 saves) and Arthur Rhodes (8-0, 1.72 ERA) were the leaders of a deep bullpen. Their combined 3.54 ERA led the majors.
Cleveland was also impressive, though perhaps a bit less so. Stars Larry Doby, Bobby Avila, Al Rosen and Al Smith led an offense that ranked fourth in runs scored at 4.78 per game. On the other hand, their pitching staff— the starters in particular— were uniformly brilliant, posting a 2.78 ERA that was far and away the best in baseball. Bob Lemon (23-7, 2.72 ERA) and Early Wynn (23-11, 2.73 ERA) were both 20-game winners and Mike Garcia (19-8, 2.64 ERA) fell just one win short of twenty while leading the starters in ERA.
Ray Narleski (13 saves, 2.22 ERA), Don Mossi (6-1, 1.94 ERA) and Hal Newhouser (7-2, 2.51 ERA) were magnificent in relief.
Series Outlook and Predictions
Despite their postseason blunders, these are two very good teams.
Seattle possesses a better offense. This is clear from the numbers but also by evaluating the two teams in depth. While Cleveland’s offensive stars compare well to Seattle’s top players, Seattle is simply deeper. Cleveland can match the quartet of Ichiro Suzuki, John Olerud, Mike Cameron and Mark McLemore with Bobby Avila, Al Smith, Larry Doby and Vic Wertz. They can come close to offsetting Edgar Martinez with Al Rosen. But they have no answer for Bret Boone. Moreover, Cleveland cannot match the rest of Seattle’s lineup which, while not great, is nonetheless superior.
On the other hand, Cleveland holds the edge from the mound. The problem for Cleveland is it’s a narrow edge and doesn’t compensate for the offensive difference. I calculate that Seattle should score about 5.05 runs a game against the Cleveland staff while I expect Cleveland to put up 4.79 runs a game against Seattle. Using these numbers, I give Seattle a 55% chance to win the series, most likely in 6 or 7 games.
Finally, I expect Seattle to win a small majority of the 20 game series.
Game 1: Cleveland routs Seattle, 12-5!
Cleveland’s heavy hitters were mostly silent while lesser-known players George Strickland, Jim Hegan and Wally Westlake combined to score 9 runs. Freddy Garcia started for Seattle and allowed 5 runs before being replaced by Ryan Franklin, who was scorched for 7 runs in just two innings work.
|W – Early Wynn (1-0)||L – Freddy Garcia (0-1)||GW – Jim Hegan (1)|
Game 2: Edgar to the rescue!
Edgar Martinez scored two runs in the ninth inning to push Seattle past Cleveland, 8-6, after Seattle squandered an early 4-0 lead. Reliever Don Mossi was the loser for Cleveland.
|W – Joel Pineiro (1-0)||L – Don Mossi (0-1)||GW – Edgar Martinez (1)|
Game 3: Avila strikes crushing blow!
Bobby Avila scored four runs in the tenth inning to break a 1-1 tie and give Cleveland the win, 5-1. The Cleveland pitching staff was brilliant, holding Seattle scoreless until the ninth inning when Edgar Martinez scored a run to tie the game off ace closer, Ray Narleski, who was charged with a blown save. Bob Hooper pitched a scoreless tenth inning for Cleveland and earned the win.
|W – Bob Hooper (1-0)||L – Jeff Nelson (0-1)||GW – Bobby Avila (1)|
Game 4: Boone delivers!
Seattle second baseman Bob Boone scored 4 runs in the eighth inning to give Seattle a narrow 8-6 lead and Arthur Rhodes did the rest, pitching a scoreless ninth inning to earn his first save and preserve the victory. For the second game in a row, Bobby Avila was the best player on the field for Cleveland, only this time in defeat.
|W – Norm Charlton (1-0)||L – Art Houtteman (0-1)||GW – Bret Boone (1)|
Game 5: Early Wynn shuts out Seattle; Cleveland wins 1-0!
Early Wynn pitched a gem, shutting out the high-powered Seattle offense to lead Cleveland to a 1-0 win. Bobby Avila scored the only Cleveland run in the first inning and Wynn made it stick. Freddy Garcia was the tough-luck loser for Seattle.
|W – Early Wynn (2-0)||L – Freddy Garcia (0-2)||GW – Bobby Avila (2)|
Game 6: Cleveland whips Seattle, win series!
Cleveland posted double-digit runs for the second time in the series to claim a 10-6 win in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated. Cleveland led 7-0 after four innings and 10-0 entering the eight inning before a pair of 3-run shots by Boone and Martinez narrowed the score. The late outburst sullied starter Bob Lemon’s final pitching line but had no effect on the outcome. Lemon earned the win in the series clincher.
|W – Bob Lemon (1-0)||L – Aaron Sele (0-1)||GW – Vic Wertz(1)|
The results of the series seemed fitting. Seattle underachieved. The fact they lost was not all together surprising; it’s how they lost.
Seattle’s pitching staff surrendered 40 runs in the series, 6.7 a game. Light-hitting Jim Hegan accounted for 7 of those runs. Of Cleveland’s offensive stars, first baseman Vic Wertz (10 runs, 1 GW) and second baseman Bobby Avilla (10 runs, 2 GW) accounted for half the Cleveland runs. Meanwhile Larry Doby (3 runs) and Al Rosen (1 run) were content to play a smaller role.
Only Jamie Moyer, who pitched six shutout innings, shined for the Seattle pitching staff. Freddy Garcia (0-2, 4.15 ERA), Aaron Sele (0-1, 9.75 ERA) and Paul Abbott (0-0, 7.50 ERA) all disappointed.
Seattle performed better at the plate, scoring 28 run (4.7 a game) but many of those runs were meaningless. Martinez (7 runs) and Boone (9 runs), scored a total of 9 runs between them after the game had been decided.
Cleveland’s pitching starting staff performed well, particularly Wynn (2-0), who allowed a mere 2 runs in 14 innings, and Mike Garcia, who hurled 5 scoreless innings. Lemon (1-0) and Feller both posted high ERAs that were slightly misleading.
Fourteen games later…
It was bound to happen. After playing brilliantly in the first six games it was inevitable Cleveland would eventually fall apart. It didn’t happen right away.
After winning the 6-game series four game to two, Cleveland proceeded to win three of the next four by scores of 4-3, 7-4, 0-9 and 6-4, giving them a 7-3 record after 10 games. They then proceeded to lose 5 games in a row and 8 of the next 10.
The real problem was at the plate. After scoring 57 runs in the first 10 games, they scored only 30 in the next 10.
On the other hand, Seattle continued to score at roughly the same rate. John Olerud was quietly dazzling, Martinez and Boone flashed at various times, and Ichiro was steady. Pitching was the real difference. Seattle pitchers finished the 20-games with an 11-9 mark and 4.45 ERA. The Indians pitchers combined for a 4.91 ERA.
After dominating the first 10 games, in the end it was Cleveland who underachieved. Although their 9-11 mark against Seattle seems about right, their late collapse seemed eerily familiar.
1954 Cleveland Batting
1954 Cleveland Pitching
2001 Seattle Batting
2001 Seattle Pitching