What were you thinking two Sundays ago, when the Mariners’ playoffs chances were draped in an invisibility cloak?
Where was your head as a long-suffering fan when Seattle dropped four out of five to the Angels and fell 10 games below .500?
Did you turn president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto’s face into a dartboard? Were you wondering if Scott Servais had served his last game as the team’s skipper?
Well, whatever it was navigating through your brainwaves, it has to have mutated just a bit since, no? At the mathematical halfway point of the season, the Mariners have resurrected an emotion that looked like it was on a one-way ferry ride out of town: hope.
Since that loss to the Angels a fortnight ago, the M’s (39-42) have won 10 out of 13 games and all four of their series. They have ridden a rotation of starting pitchers that, on all but a couple of occasions during this stretch, has provided an opportunity for victory.
Yes, each of their three opponents during this run (the Angels, A’s and Orioles) are at least seven games below .500 — with Oakland a whopping 29 games under that mark. But there has been just enough encouragement to make people think, “You know, this whole wild-card thing could still happen.”
The Mariners’ chief offseason acquisition — reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray — is on another Cy-worthy stretch. In Seattle’s 2-1 win Sunday over Oakland, he allowed just one run in 6 2/3 innings, marking the fifth straight game he has gone at least six innings while giving up one run or fewer.
The Mariners’ longtime prized prospect — center fielder Julio Rodriguez — is performing better than any other rookie in the game. The 21-year-old had a home run and an RBI double Sunday to boost his dinger total to 14 on the season and his OPS up to .820.
Servais praised the pair in his postgame news conference, saying that the Mariners are going to “keep riding the Robbie Ray train” and that Julio hits the ball harder than anyone in baseball. But 14 days before, the Mariners manager’s tone was much less enthused.
After losing both games of a doubleheader to the Angels — where the offense was virtually nonexistent — he called a meeting with the position players before the final game of the series. It was a chance for the every-day guys to express their opinions that, according to Servais, made them vulnerable and forced some to take some ownership of the situation.
Did the meeting pay immediate dividends? No. Seattle was shut out that Sunday. But Servais and others believe that get-together paved the way for the club’s recent success.
“You hit those points in the season — and we’ve been there a couple times already — every team has those spots,” Servais said. “And that’s when you find out what kind of team you have.”
OK, that was a classic example of a sports columnist romanticizing a clubhouse gathering. Wins, not words, are what is required for the Mariners to snap this 21-year postseason drought. But producing those victories is going to be easier to come by if the starting pitching continues to flourish the way it has — and when key players return from injury.
Remember, the Mariners are still without former All-Star Mitch Haniger — probably their most consistent offensive force over the past few years when healthy — who they hope will return from a high-ankle sprain in the coming weeks. They are also without 2020 American League Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis, who is set to begin a rehab stint in Tacoma after suffering a concussion. No, that duo isn’t Ruth and Gehrig or Trout and Ohtani, but they are potential sparks for an offense that ranks 26th in MLB in runs.
Optimism, of course, must remain guarded here — and not just because the Mariners regularly hoodwink their fans into thinking that playoff drought is going to end. Even if the M’s walked off the field Sunday five games out of the final wild-card spot, fangraphs.com still gives them a mere 13% chance of reaching the postseason in 2022.
Servais confessed before Sunday’s game that the season has been disappointing thus far. There have been former All-Stars underperforming and more runners left on base than any other team in MLB.
But these past 13 games have not only benefited the Mariners, they might have saved their year. Halfway through the season, they still have half a chance.