We’ll start with the bad news: The stat geeks don’t think the Mariners have much of a chance.
Even with the proposed 60-game season, which would preclude mass separation between the elites and the cellar-dwellers, the folks at FanGraphs gave the M’s just a 0.9% chance of making the playoffs. Only the Orioles, who were listed at 0.1%, were given less of a shot.
Basically, the writers at that site think Seattle is the second-worst team in the league, and, well, there’s not a lot of evidence to contradict that.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto basically went on record a few months back saying that the team wasn’t going to contend in 2020. After going 68-94 last season, when they lost 92 of their final 147 games, the team didn’t add much to its arsenal and is still waiting for its younger players to develop.
Moreover, as it looks more and more likely that there won’t be a minor-league season, those at-bats and innings pitched that the up-and-comers won’t get could be a huge blow to the Mariners moving forward.
I wrote last year that the developments at the lower levels should be of greater concern to Mariners fans than what’s going on in the majors. I’m not sure I would think differently this year if games were to be played in the minors. To me, prospects such as Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez and Logan Gilbert are of more interest than many of the players on the big-league roster. Those guys not playing would turn the “step back” into a Bob Beamon-esque leap back.
But here’s the good news: When the season is just 60 games, truly anything can happen.
Can you imagine the buzz the M’s would generate in this town if they had anything close to the start they did last year? Can you picture the enthusiasm if they rattled off six straight wins at the beginning of the second month and pulled to within a couple games of the wild card?
If there were 162 games, or even 100 games, any “meaningful” baseball games would have disappeared by the middle of the summer. But now, there’s a real chance for there to be meaningful games all season long.
One of the beautiful aspects of baseball is the element of randomness. It’s not like hoops, where the best teams usually win 80 percent of their games and the worst win 20. A baseball team that wins 60 percent of its games is probably going to win its division. A 162-game season is necessary to separate the great from the mediocre, and there are generally no playoff matchups sans suspense.
Could we have a case of the Miracle Mariners?
It’s not that they’re completely incapable. Marco Gonzales is a solid starting pitcher. Catcher Tom Murphy was fantastic in spurts last year. After slumping early, third baseman Kyle Seager mashed 23 home runs in just 106 games. What if they all had the greatest two-month stretch of their lives?
We all know the M’s haven’t made the playoffs since 2001. We all know it’s the longest postseason drought among the four most-watched American sports leagues. We all know that drought probably won’t end this year, but with this shortened season — you really never know.
By the way, there will be no asterisk if the M’s are able to sneak into the postseason somehow. Just like there is no asterisk next to the Spurs’ title in 1999 when just 50 games were played. Dire circumstances are why MLB is at this point, but we’re here. Assuming this season happens, it will be just as valid as any other year.
The people at FanGraphs are probably right in their assessment of the M’s. It’s clear that the talent is lacking. But this proposed shortened season should give fans something they haven’t felt in a long time: