Is Mariners-Rangers series a September preview?

The Mariners rallied from a 12-2 deficit Thursday night against the Padres to win 16-13.
The Mariners rallied from a 12-2 deficit Thursday night against the Padres to win 16-13. TNS

Teams don’t come back from 10-run deficits. They just don’t, with rare exceptions.

One of those exceptions came Thursday night, when the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres tag-teamed on the largest rally/meltdown in a nine-inning Major League Baseball game since 1990.

Trailing the Padres 12-2 after five innings, the Mariners scored five runs in the sixth and nine runs in the seventh.

All nine runs in the seventh were scored with two outs and without the benefit of an extra-base hit.

The Mariners went 11 for 12 with 15 RBIs with runners in scoring position.

Seattle’s bench players drove in eight runs.

All of it added up to a 16-13 Seattle victory in 3 hours, 50 minutes that left the Mariners rushing to beat the San Diego International Airport curfew and a possible five-figure fine to leave late.

They made it by three minutes.

From the box score rose a few questions:

What can a victory like that do for the Mariners?

Nelson Cruz, who went 2 for 5 with a pre-rally homer, said it without hesitation.

“It builds confidence,” the former Texas Rangers slugger said.

The Mariners had no reason to not be confident, having spent 26 of 31 days in May in first place in the American League West and withstood a three-game sweep at home to the lowly Minnesota Twins.

But the Mariners are also currently without center fielder Leonys Martin, shortstop Ketel Marte and some guy named Felix Hernandez, though none of the injuries are major.

Don’t scoff at the significance of Martin’s hamstring injury. He was playing as he was late in 2014 with the Rangers under interim manager Tim Bogar, who just happens to be the Mariners’ bench coach. Martin was hitting for power before the injury and patrolling center field as well as anyone in the game.

Each win the Mariners tally without their injured players is a confidence-builder, whether down 10 runs or leading wire to wire. It takes a village to win a division title.

“We’ve proven we can play without those guys,” Cruz said. “If we want to win this, we have to count on everybody. It’s not only the 25 guys we left with in spring training. We need the guys in the minors to come and help us.”

Will the West title be decided between the Mariners and Rangers?

The wild win pushed the Mariners into a first-place tie with the Rangers ahead of their three-game series, and the Rangers’ win Friday in the opener left them with the best record in the league.

Yu Darvish was the winning pitcher.

“They have a really good team,” Cruz said. “With Darvish back, it makes them even better. I think if we can stay healthy that will give us a chance.”

The Rangers’ advantage has been starting pitching, while the Mariners have gotten superior work from their bullpen. The Mariners have had a slight edge at the plate.

The other three teams in the division were seven, seven and 7  1/2 games back, but all three have had their moments of late.

The Houston Astros, the preseason division favorites, entered Saturday having won nine of 11 games since the Rangers swept them at Minute Maid Park on May 20-22.

The Los Angeles Angels are seeing signs of life from their injury-plagued rotation, though it doesn’t seem sustainable.

The Rangers saw that Oakland can’t be taken lightly after the A’s swept their three-game series May 16-18, but they aren’t a real threat for the title.

The Rangers, though, weren’t thought to be a real threat this time last year, and look what happened. Anything is possible in baseball, as the Mariners showed Thursday with the mother of all comebacks.

How quickly will the Rangers hire back A.J. Preller after the Padres dismiss him as their GM?

Preller pushed in all his chips in his first year on the job, winning the 2014-15 off-season to acquire, among others, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, Craig Kimbrel and James Shields.

The best of the remaining prospects were shipped away and the 13th overall draft pick in 2015 was surrendered. San Diego finished a distant fourth in the National League West.

The Padres’ farm system is now among the game’s worst under the guidance of a GM who built his reputation as a system builder with the Rangers. It was Preller who oversaw the Rangers’ international operation when Nomar Mazara was signed in 2011, and the 2012 draft when Joey Gallo and Lewis Brinson were selected.

On Wednesday, before the collapse against the Mariners, the Padres’ executive chairman ripped the club and said management needed to be responsible for the disaster since Preller took over.

The Padres signed Preller to a five-year deal, giving him time to put his player development program in place, so it would seem to be good business to keep him on board through at least 2017.

He has started recouping prospects with trades of Kimbrel in November and Shields on Saturday. But these are the Padres, who change GMs about as often as NHL teams change coaches.

What happens in the majors still matters most, and that’s not working in Preller’s favor. If he becomes a free agent, he likely would be welcomed back at Globe Life Park.

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