TORONTO — A month ago, the Mariners were everyone’s sneaky, darkhorse, under-the-radar, chic pick to advance deep into the baseball postseason. Maybe even all the way to the World Series. Indeed, you heard it so often that the sentiment could be found perched on top of the radar, no longer hiding under it.

And then reality hit. Julio Rodriguez got a wrist injury, and then a back injury. Mitch Haniger tweaked his back as well. Eugenio Suarez hurt his finger, and so did Cal Raleigh. Starting pitchers who had been sailing along in style suddenly seemed to hit a rut in unison. The lockdown bullpen hit a spell where the lock was picked, resulting in massive vandalism of the Mariners’ aura. The ballclub went on what was to have been a cakewalk road trip and lost seven of 10.

As manager Scott Servais said after the regular-season finale Wednesday, “Everybody thought the sky was going to fall, and the Mariners would never win another game.”

(Illustration by The Sporting Press for The Seattle Times)

Quietly, the Mariners ceased being the chic postseason pick. Their bandwagon emptied quickly. When Rodriguez, Suarez and Raleigh all were sidelined in a 72-hour span, Servais admits, “I have to be honest, I got worried. I just know what those three players mean to our team — on the field, emotionally, and what they do behind the scenes that everybody doesn’t see in our preparation, and everything that they bring. It’s huge.”

As the Mariners worked out at Rogers Centre on Thursday in preparation for their first playoff game since Oct. 22, 2001 on Friday, the confidence has returned. And so, they hope, have all the elements that led to that assessment of their potential playoff prowess.

I’ll say it one more time: The Mariners really, truly are a team built for postseason success, an assessment that their stumble down the stretch shouldn’t change.


Now, that doesn’t mean they will even get by the Toronto Blue Jays, a team with a punishing lineup that will be playing in front of a frenzied sellout crowd in the best-of-three American League Wild Card Series. It just means that when you outline the traits that generally lead to October success, the Mariners check many of the boxes.


They have two proven front-line starters in Luis Castillo and Robbie Ray, and two young arms that have each had extended flashes of brilliance in Logan Gilbert and George Kirby. If the Mariners get the best version of those guys, it bodes extremely well.

They have, when all is clicking, a versatile lockdown bullpen filled with power arms that give Servais a variety of options in high-leverage situations. Again, if Paul Sewald, Andres Munoz, Erik Swanson, Matt Brash and Diego Castillo, most notably, are in vintage form, the Mariners are in position to win the sort of tense 3-2 or 2-1 game that has been their forte through 34 one-run victories, most in MLB for the second year in a row.

It has been said that, when you wash everything else away, you win in October above all else with bullpens and blasts. And the Mariners, particularly with Rodriguez, Suarez and Raleigh healthy, have the elements of that formula with 197 homers, tied for ninth in the majors and fifth in the American League.

Here was Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto on Thursday talking about what succeeds in the postseason — and how he built this Mariners team with that blueprint in mind:

“This roster, which is entirely different than it was a few years ago, it’s about power. And we have power arms throughout the rotation. We have power arms throughout the bullpen, we have power up and down our lineup.


“We’re not, I would say, a gifted bat-to-ball, hit-for-average team. But I think people would be mildly surprised, if not shocked, if they looked and saw how often we walked, and how frequently we homered. So in that way, we’re a pretty modern offense. I think we’re second in the American League in walks (behind only the Yankees). We’re one of the top 10 home-run hitting teams in all of baseball. And the power is distributed throughout the lineup. We’ve got a bunch of guys that can hit it out of the park.

“And then you’ve got the Luis Castillos and the Robbie Rays and Logan Gilberts and George Kirbys that give you a chance to win with power, bat-missing type stuff. And then a bullpen that could come in and do the same. I do think that’s the recipe in October — big-time pitching with power arms and guys that can hit the ball out of the ballpark. Because you’re not going to string together many five- or six-hit innings in the postseason to generate those runs.”

And now the Mariners’ health and momentum have returned. Losing utility spark plug Sam Haggerty in the final series of the year was a blow, but Rodriguez, Suarez and Raleigh are all back in the lineup and produced down the stretch. Haniger appears back on track as well with a .371/.425/.771 slash line and four homers in his past nine games. Julio, described Thursday by Servais as a “generational talent” with a natural proclivity to relish the spotlight, has the potential the carry the Mariners on his back. They closed out the regular season by winning seven of nine. If you scour the internet, you might even find some national-type analysts creeping back on the Mariner train.

Servais said in Seattle, before they headed to Toronto, that one overriding goal of the 2022 Mariners is to play a postseason game this season in front of their fans at T-Mobile Park. There is, of course, only one way to accomplish that feat, given that this entire first-round series will be played in Toronto by virtue of its higher seed: They have to knock out the Blue Jays.

While Servais didn’t exactly go Joe Namath and guarantee a victory, his implication was crystal clear when he spoke Wednesday.

“There’s big moments yet ahead for this team. I certainly believe that. And they’re going to happen here at T-Mobile Park. But we have some work to do first, obviously.”

If the Mariners are truly set up for postseason success, they must show it this weekend against the Blue Jays.