In a way it’s progress, to the extreme, that the Mariners achieved so greatly in the first half as to make their current situation -- a stretch of five losses in six games to the Yankees and Red Sox -- a source of angst and not just celebration.
Expectations are a fickle beast.
If you had told any random Mariners fans on Opening Day that they would wake up June 25, near the halfway point of the season, with the team a full 16 games over .500, on a 98-win pace and six games clear of their nearest pursuer for a playoff spot, they would have danced in Pioneer Square.
But if you knew that just a week ago the Mariners were 21 games over .500 and on pace to win 105, that their two-game division lead over the Astros in the AL West had become a 4½-game deficit in that span, and that the Angels had pulled two games closer for the second wild card, well, it would be enough for all those latent psychological demons to come surging to the surface.
In a way it’s progress, to the extreme, that the Mariners achieved so greatly in the first half as to make their current situation a source of angst and not just celebration. And it’s a testament to their sordid history of failure that the level of faith and comfort among fans is teetering and tottering after a stretch of five losses in six games to the Yankees and Red Sox.
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Here are a few key conclusions I have drawn now that the Mariners’ so-called “gauntlet” of 15 out of 18 games against the Astros, Angels, Red Sox and Yankees has concluded with a 7-8 overall record:
- They are not as good, both by virtue of statistical analysis and the eye test, as the three juggernauts in the American League – Houston, Boston and New York.
- That does not necessarily doom them if they reach the postseason.
- The Mariners’ long-awaited playoff appearance, absent since 2001, is still far more likely than not.
Let’s examine those points one by one. The first is hardly controversial. The Yankees, Astros and Red Sox entering Monday were on pace to win 108, 107 and 107 games, respectively. It would be the first time in MLB history that three teams from the same league exceeded 100 wins, and a vivid indicator – or indictment – of the two-tier hierarchy that exists in the AL.
That hierarchy, however, is a friend of the Mariners, who will be playing an awful lot of bad teams down the stretch – teams that will get even worse as they dump whatever marketable pieces they have at the deadline. For instance, the Mariners close the year with seven of their final 10 games against the Rangers, who reportedly are shopping Cole Hamels, Adrian Beltre, Jake Diekman and closer Keone Kela on the trade market. If you think the Rangers are bad now …
The Mariners don’t have the hitting to match the AL’s Big Three, who are on pace to finish 1-2-3 in runs scored and outpace Seattle by more than 120 runs. They also happen to be 1-2-3 in earned-run average, allowing more than a run less per game than Seattle, in the Astros’ case.
The Mariners have been good this year. This trio has been great and should continue to be. But as we’ve seen in the playoffs time and time again, regular-season greatness doesn’t necessarily translate to postseason success. Just ask the 2001 Mariners, who tied a record with 116 wins but were ousted by the Yankees in the ALCS.
If the Mariners are going to make the playoffs, they seemed destined to do so as the second wild-card team, a reality that is already in clear focus more than three months ahead of the fact. That would put them on the road for a loser-out game at either New York’s Yankee Stadium or Boston’s Fenway Park, where they would be heavy underdogs. But they could take some solace in the fact that in six seasons of wild-card games, the second wild-card team has gone on the road to win three out of six times in the AL, and four out of six in the NL. The 2014 Giants even catapulted from second wild card to World Series champion.
I’m not predicting that for the Mariners, mind you, just trying to provide some salve to panic-addled fans. This recent stretch by the Mariners has pinpointed their weaknesses, most prominently the shakiness of the bullpen’s bridge to closer Edwin Diaz.
Jerry Dipoto has tried to rectify that with the offseason acquisition of Juan Nicasio and the in-season acquisition of Alex Colome. Dipoto no doubt will try again before July 31 to solidify the Mariners’ relief corps and perhaps augment the rotation or even the offense, as well he should. If there’s ever a season for the Mariners to be all in, even (or especially) if it means taking on payroll, this is the one.
Nothing would advance the cause of this organization more than ending the ongoing narrative about pro sports’ longest playoff drought. That should be their single-minded goal, because it’s within their grasp. Even after getting spanked in New York and Boston, the Mariners have a clear path to the playoffs.
Realistically, just two teams – the Angels and A’s – stand in their way, and the Mariners have built a healthy cushion. Entering Monday, if they play just .500 ball the rest of the way to get to 89 wins, the Angels would have to put up a .583 winning percentage to surpass them, and the A’s would have to play .595 ball the rest of the way. These are two teams struggling to stay above .500, mind you, while the Mariners are above .600.
Anything can happen, especially when Angels outfielder Mike Trout is involved. The Mariners surely have the potential for a collapse, and a history of doing so over the past 16 wretched years.
But for 2½ months, they have put themselves in a very strong position, one that allows them to withstand a week like the one they just had.