The Seattle Mariners Are In The Playoffs (That Don’t Exist)

Jeff Sullivan · June 4, 2014 at 5:43 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.

Comments

17 Responses to “The Seattle Mariners Are In The Playoffs (That Don’t Exist)”

  1. MrZDevotee on June 4th, 2014 6:54 pm

    I like baseball. It’s a fun sport. It plays out unlike any other game out there.

    Football and baseball are like the difference between dogs and cats…

    With dogs (and football) love and all that pet stuff is blaringly obvious. It’s easy to read. No confusion. You feed it enough and pat its back, and you get it back tenfold. Daily.

    With cats (and baseball) you never really can be sure where you stand, and if the cat really cares about you or not. You can feed it all day long, off a plate, Copper River Salmon, and you still have no idea if the cat is going to nuzzle you and purr, or slice your lips off and spit and hiss at you. But the flip side is, when the cat (baseball) DOES show you love, you know damn well that it means something, and doesn’t happen ever day. And should be celebrated. Really. Celebrated.

    Today the cat loves us.

    Hopefully tomorrow it doesn’t pee all over our pillow and run away for 6 weeks.

  2. PackBob on June 4th, 2014 6:59 pm

    A few things seem promising to me. They’ve held their own against the good teams. Oakland 5-5, Angels 6-3, Detroit 2-1, Atlanta 2-0. They’ve been able to come back from some early deficits, like the 4-0 hole the other day to win. Their 5th starter has been awful and they are still above .500. They have a POSITIVE run differential!

    It’s been many, many years since the Mariners have had a positive run differential. To have a winning team, that seems proper. For the Mariners it’s a miracle, but the more they continue doing it, the less oddball it will seem.

  3. MrZDevotee on June 4th, 2014 7:20 pm

    Pack-
    The fact that we’re 2nd best (behind the A’s) at preventing runs is the main reason for the run differential.

  4. Westside guy on June 4th, 2014 8:50 pm

    Jeff, I don’t know how you could’ve not mentioned how awesome Kuma has been somewhere in there. He’s a big reason they’ve won games recently where McLendon decided it’d be fun to run the Bad News Bears out onto the field – Kuma is amazing!

    Also, what the heck is going on in the AL East?! It’s like the Bizarro League right now. It’s good news for our guys, in any case!

  5. maqman on June 5th, 2014 2:45 am

    It’s good to be a Mariner’s fan for one of the few times in recent years. How long it will last nobody knows but for now that’s enough. Life just has more zing now. Who needs sunshine or some other pale substitute to have a good day? Not us. We all know deep down that this might be the time when we get to keep this feeling for a few years. That will take some getting used to; we know all the reasons why the baseball gods won’t have showered pixie dust over Seattle. But this time, just maybe this time we will stay as winners as the next few years roll over the horizon.

  6. leon0112 on June 5th, 2014 6:05 am

    It is possible that Romero or Gillespie become a big league hitter and becomes the DH. Their sample size is so small that this is still possible.

    It seems like there are several players who have the potential for helping the team this year. In past years, I didn’t believe that.

  7. Snuffy on June 5th, 2014 6:53 am

    What is with Endy(LHH)in CF vLHP over Jones AND Saunders? Of course you can say that, at least so far, “It’s working!” That’s a good deal like poking a junkyard dog in butt and expecting it to run away every time because it did before. Lloyd’s lineups are just laughable. His players do seem to like him though.

  8. Westside guy on June 5th, 2014 8:22 am

    Gillespie is 30 – he’s been bouncing around for quite a while. At this point he’s not a good bet to suddenly get good.

  9. Eastside Crank on June 5th, 2014 8:45 am

    Repeat after me: small sample size. The goal is not to make the playoffs, it is to advance once they get there. Last season we saw that it was not enough for the playoff teams to have three solid starting pitchers to get to the World Series. Teams need hitting and defense and bullpen depth. The Mariner lineup is still full of holes. A slump by any of the few who do hit the ball will put the team into a tailspin. The Z-bar has been set so low that we are grasping at straws.

  10. naviomelo on June 5th, 2014 8:53 am

    My impeccable timing means that my Mariner fandom started, appropriately, in 2002. At this point, just getting there is enough for me. I’ll take my chances after that.

  11. MrZDevotee on June 5th, 2014 9:06 am

    I’ll wear a clown suit and dance around in the middle of I-5 if we make the playoffs… I could care less if we won a single game when we get there. Just making the playoffs would be akin to winning 5 straight World Series for this lineup.

    (Although I had an interesting thought the other day– my main concern about the Mariners rotation in Spring was that all the young guys were gonna run out of innings right when things got interesting, if we were still hanging around. But now, with Paxton and Walker’s DL time, their “pitch counts” haven’t even started yet, and given some luck with their health, they’ll be able to pitch well into October, if necessary. Hopefully Walker is ready to go by the All-Star break, and then when Elias starts hitting his limit, Paxton can take over…)

  12. Dennisss on June 5th, 2014 9:24 am

    This team definitely has its flaws. Only three hitters – Seager, Cano, Saunders, all lefties — are hitting above average. Elias and Young could turn into pumpkins overnight, as could Jones. They are at the top of the pack of wildcard contenders, but there are a lot of contenders.

    On the other hand, they are better defensively, in the outfield and at catcher, than previous renditions, and Cano is a clear upgrade at second. I don’t think a little bit of optimism is out of place. Just not too much, not yet.

  13. BoomBoom on June 5th, 2014 11:07 am

    I understand your guarded defensive mechanism, Dennisss, but I say damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead on the optimism. It may very well be misplaced, but I don’t care. This is the most fun being an M’s fan has been in a good long while, and I’m going to milk it until the cow dies.

  14. joser on June 5th, 2014 11:36 am

    I giggle, imagining a world where the season ends today and everyone, literally everyone, knew that was going to happen… except Brian Cashman. “What, didn’t you get the memo? Don’t you have assistants? Have you been in a coma? They’ve been talking about it on SportsCenter for weeks!” (“You have 471 missed calls from H. Steinbrenner”)

    Also “The winner of the Brad Miller/Nick Franklin competition has been other teams” and “the Padres is a flavorless rice cake in a little cylindrical uniform” — this is why I love to read your writing, Jeff. Hilarious and accurate.

  15. RoninX on June 5th, 2014 12:15 pm

    Perfect tone Jeff. I have no idea how long competitive Mariners baseball will last this year. But one thing the last decade has taught me is to enjoy it while we have it!

  16. LongDistance on June 5th, 2014 12:16 pm

    They’re playing well above any sane definition of expectations. Just being a respectable team, is already an accomplishment, although what that respectibility consists of, is debatable.

    I love it, but I can’t see them reeling off strings of W5 streaks. But then, .500 going into June, wasn’t forseeable back in March.

    WTF. I agree with the enjoyers. It’s been such a long time, I don’t really care if they are what they are or not.

  17. Eastside Crank on June 5th, 2014 12:21 pm

    Think of the Seahawks and Carroll deciding that .500 ball would be good enough and that advancing in the playoffs was no big deal. The super teams in the majors are having down years and lesser teams have a chance this season. The Mariners have glaring flaws and maybe a competent GM would be able to correct them enough to make a team that cold advance in the playoffs.

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