The Seattle Mariners Are In The Playoffs (That Don’t Exist)
If the season ended right this second, Brian Cashman would be like “what the hell?” And the Seattle Mariners would prepare to play a baseball game against the Angels in Anaheim, for the right to go to Oakland in the ALDS. Depending on things, the Mariners could line up to have Felix start the one-game playoff, giving them the greatest competitive advantage. And then if Felix was good for eight innings against a strong lineup, and if the Mariners could produce just enough runs, Lloyd McClendon could hand the ball to Fernando Rodney with a one-run lead, while the Rally Monkey jumped around on the scoreboard…
This is a time to feel good. There have been times to feel other things, like when the Mariners lost 11 of 14 games, but now they’ve gone 7-3 against the Angels, Tigers, Yankees, and Braves, who are a combined 16 games over .500. Put another way, that’s two division leaders, one wild-card team, and another team the Mariners just knocked out of wild-card position. Up next: a much easier time, possibly. The Rays have been dreadful, and here come four games. The Yankees are okay, but they’re not close to 100%. Everybody on the Rangers is hurt, and everybody on the Padres is a flavorless rice cake in a little cylindrical uniform. The Royals are the Mariners’ downside, and the Red Sox haven’t been themselves. The Mariners don’t play a team currently in playoff position until July 11. That’s a lot of games away.
Basically: the Mariners did well against a rough stretch. Now they have an easier stretch. The last time we thought they had an easy stretch, they lost five of six to the Astros and Marlins, but the Marlins aren’t that bad and the Astros picked it up and we can make excuses all day long because we’re protective of the good feelings we get to feel from time to time. You don’t need to let us have this; we’re going to have this, no matter what. The Mariners don’t suck and we’re fun-loving people.
Interestingly, according to the FanGraphs playoff odds, the Mariners’ odds haven’t really changed since the start of the season. They began as roughly a 1-in-3 shot, and they stand today as roughly a 1-in-3 shot. What that hides, additionally, is they have a third the shot at winning the division, while the wild-card odds have gone up about ten percentage points. Put that way, the Mariners’ odds have gotten a little worse. But they’ve also gone 24-15 since their last bad slump, so the odds have an upward trajectory, and what we really care about is that it’s June now and we can be just as interested as we were at the beginning of April. That’s really always the goal. We want for the season to be interesting for as long as possible, because it’s a long season. We’ve made it two months, sometimes hanging on by a thread.
More wins than losses after 59 games. More runs scored than runs allowed. 31-28. Last year, at this point, the Mariners were 26-33. The year before, at this point, the Mariners were 26-33. The year before that, at this point, the Mariners were…31-28. So this isn’t totally unprecedented. From that point on, the 2011 Mariners went 36-67. Never forget how quickly the rug can be taken out from under you. Those Mariners seemed borderline competitive until they were one of the worst teams in baseball. In retrospect it should’ve been easy to see coming, but it’s never that easy at the time. It could happen again! Probably won’t, but it could. Stay grounded. But, have fun. I probably don’t even need to tell you.
The oddest thing is how oddly this has happened. Think about the presumed keys to the Mariners having a successful season. Taijuan Walker hasn’t pitched once. James Paxton’s thrown fewer innings than Joe Beimel. Robinson Cano’s been good, but not totally himself yet. The winner of the Brad Miller/Nick Franklin competition has been other teams. Miller, Franklin, Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Abe Almonte have combined for a 0.4 WAR. Corey Hart sets that to zero by himself. Or, Stefen Romero sets that to zero by himself. Endy Chavez is on the active roster literally right now. Willie Bloomquist started the game today at first base. The Mariners ran out ridiculous lineups today, and last Saturday. They won both times.
To offset the negatives, Felix has decided to kick things up another level. Whoever Roenis Elias is keeps getting better seemingly every week. Compared to Elias, Chris Young has a lower ERA. The bullpen somehow has the third-best ERA in the American League. Kyle Seager and Michael Saunders are on pace for career-best seasons. Mike Zunino’s defense is so good we can sort of overlook his .2-something OBP. James Jones is on the team and not terrible. The Mariners are pretty good defensively by UZR, and by the numbers that Matthew tracks.
It’s all either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. The team probably won’t keep hitting so much better with men on base. We don’t know if Paxton’s going to come back, and there are some obvious over-achievers, and it doesn’t help that some of the young guys haven’t gotten better. But then, the Mariners have gotten here without needing everything to go right. Imagine if they weren’t among the league worst at shortstop and DH. Imagine if they were even just adequate. What if Miller’s recent signs of life are legitimate?
As always, you can see the upside and downside. As always, there are under-achievers to balance out certain over-achievers, and vice versa. Not as always, the Mariners are over .500 and in the race with another four months left. That’s what’s most critical in the bigger picture: the Mariners made it a third of the way. There’s not a team vying for the wild card that doesn’t have questions, and it’s not like the Mariners’ questions are more pressing or dire than the rest. The Royals can’t hit. The Yankees don’t have some of their best pitchers. The Rangers lose a player an hour. The Orioles have had a bottom-third rotation and bullpen. The Indians have had a godawful defense.
The projected rest-of-season winning percentages for teams vying for the Mariners’ wild-card slot:
- Red Sox: .533
- Indians: .522
- Rays: .517
- Mariners: .505
- Royals: .496
- Orioles: .494
- Yankees: .493
- Rangers: .489
- White Sox: .447
- Astros: .445
- Twins: .437
And the Mariners have some sort of lead in the standings over all of them.
As proven by recent history, 31-28 after 59 games doesn’t mean much. It doesn’t mean the Mariners won’t suck. It does mean the Mariners haven’t sucked, and it does mean you get to want to watch Mariners games on television when the beautiful weather is trying to persuade you to go for a walk. Walk earlier. Walk later. Don’t walk at all. There’ll be plenty of time to be outside when the Mariners aren’t actively playing competitive, meaningful baseball. Maybe that’ll be July. Maybe it won’t.