The math says the Mariners are still alive for a spot in the postseason. The reality of the situation says otherwise. In past years, this would be time for prospects to get big-league experience. But other than Daniel Vogelbach, the Mariners haven’t called up any “prospects” in September.
This isn’t an unfamiliar situation for the Mariners.
Sure there have been seasons where it’s come earlier — like July — and others where it’s down to the final days. But at some point, the acceptance of a fate without the postseason becomes a reality and the remaining games in the regular season become important only for the sake of competition and a final record and not for a spot in the playoffs.
Saturday, manager Scott Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto met in Servais’ office for almost two hours to discuss this impending change in the status of the 2018 season.
The math says the Mariners are still alive for a spot in the postseason. The reality of the situation says otherwise.
Tuesday, the Mariners open a two-game series against the Padres — a team recently responsible for ruining the Mariners’ postseason hopes — with a 79-64 record and 19 games left in the season. They trail the A’s (87-57), who have 18 games remaining, by 7 1/2 games in the wild-card race. Even if the A’s were to somehow slump and go 8-10 to finish the season, the Mariners would have to go 16-3 to somehow tie them in the regular-season standings. Neither situation — the A’s losing that many games or the Mariners winning at that clip — seems plausible.
So now the Mariners look “to finish strong” as many players already are starting to say.
What does that mean going forward?
Well, the lineups will be different with playing time spread out in different aspects.
“We are going to start to get some guys some exposure,” Servais said. “We will try to find favorable matchups, right or left, or based on what guys can bring to the mix and start working some guys into the mix to see what they can give us. It’s also what we are going to do in the bullpen. We’ll give guys longer looks, more looks and we can find someone with a hot hand and put them in a good spot going forward.”
In past years, these games were often chances for young prospects to accumulate some extended big-league experience.
But other than Daniel Vogelbach, the Mariners haven’t called up any “prospects” in September. To be fair, there aren’t many players who fall under the “prospects” concept on the 40-man roster, which is another issue. Position players Kristopher Negron and Gordon Beckham are veteran players. The idea of acquiring Negron from the Diamondbacks in a trade in late August and adding him to the 40-man roster means he’s stays in the organization going into next season. He could vie for the backup infielder spot next season with Andrew Romine expected to move on in free agency.
The Mariners might add a few players from Class AA Arkansas on Tuesday now that the Travelers’ season ended with a defeat in the playoffs. Young right-handed relievers Matt Festa and Nick Rumbelow should join the team. They also fall under the prospect category in some ways.
The best prospect in the system — outfielder Kyle Lewis — was on hitting surge when the Travelers season ended. But he’s not on the 40-man roster and would have to be added to be brought up. The initial plan was to avoid putting Lewis on the 40-man roster this soon and let him recover after a season in which he played 86 games following a second offseason knee surgery.
Could the Mariners’ quick fall from the wild-card race have changed their minds? Does it really do any good bringing Lewis in for these remaining games when he’s not expected to make the team next season?
It might give fans some fleeting excitement.
As for the established players, you might see the Mariners pull back on some of them. The immediate reaction would be to sit James Paxton, Marco Gonzales and Edwin Diaz, who have all amassed career-high innings pitched this season. But Gonzales, who is on the disabled list, still is being activated and is starting Tuesday. Paxton is slotted to pitch in Anaheim and Diaz, who has 54 saves on the season, is still chasing the saves record of 62 for a season.
The idea of pushing through and finishing a season for Paxton and Gonzales is important for them mentally and physically.
“It’s a big thing,” Servais said. “You are raising the bar slowly and incrementally so they’ve been down that road before.”
For players like Mike Zunino and Kyle Seager, who have slumped for much of the season, it gives them some games to try and take the stuff they are working on into games and hope they find something that can be carried into next season.
The Mariners are in a weird place in that way. So much of their roster is supposed to return in 2019. They have six starting pitchers under contract or club control for next season. Their bullpen pieces are largely under club control, while only Nelson Cruz, Romine and Cameron Maybin are slated for free agency after the season. Outfielder Denard Span has a $14 million club option for 2019.
Obviously, Dipoto will make changes this offseason. There doesn’t seem to be much that can be learned over the final 19 games that isn’t already known about the players currently on the 40-man roster. The Mariners will play out the string, trying to play competitive games for a winning season while an offseason watching the postseason looms.