They entered Wednesday’s game with a 22-26 record. They were two games back of the Astros for a playoff spot and four games back of the Indians for the wild card.
There hasn’t been a fan on hand to cheer them on, nor are there citywide celebrations following their victories. Their heralded minor-leaguers have had little room to develop, and the idea of them contending in 2021 is seeming like more and more of a stretch.
So has this season been a success for the Mariners? Well, given that they are playing meaningful baseball in the final two weeks of the season, I have to say it has.
I certainly didn’t think this two weeks ago, when I wrote that 2020 was essentially a calamity. The lack of development for their prized prospects signaled that any notion of future contention seemed at least two years away. But then the M’s went ahead and won six consecutive games and, for what might be just a fleeting moment, refused to surrender the entire sporting spotlight to the Seahawks in this town.
This didn’t seem possible when the M’s were 13-21 toward the end of last month — seemingly waiting for a lost season to end. Their play was consistent with the evaluation team general manager Jerry Dipoto gave before the season, which was that the 19-year playoff drought wasn’t likely to end. Perhaps it’s still highly unlikely, as fangraphs.com gave the Mariners just a 3.5% chance of making the postseason before Wednesday’s game vs. San Francisco. Still, these games matter. A lot. Did you ever think you’d say that at this point in the season?
“I think coming into the season we’ve been very transparent with all you in the media, and our fan base for what we were trying to build here, and I think it’s kind of justification that we are building something that’s gonna be really good for a long time,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said during a Zoom video call Wednesday. “Sometimes things happen a little bit quicker than maybe you foresee it happening. Players come to the forefront, we see some young guys taking advantage of opportunities and run with it. That’s what we’ve seen.”
Anyone in particular?
“It certainly starts with Kyle Lewis and really what he’s been able to do this season in center field, at the plate, it’s been huge for not just our team and organization but the rest of our players, our young guys,” Servais added. “Kyle has been the poster child of what we’re doing here, and it’s been awesome.”
Perhaps the moment that best symbolizes the Mariners’ surprise contention came Monday, when Lewis robbed A’s outfielder Ramon Laureano of a grand slam in the first inning of the second game of a doubleheader. Yes, the Mariners lost the game, but the superstar-in-training produced a Ken Griffey Jr.-esque moment that drew a bellow from the dugout.
Even in defeat, the message was clear: Lewis isn’t going to make it easy for anyone. The Mariners have followed suit.
Does that not make this season at least moderately successful? With the NFL and college football starting up, the NBA, WNBA and NHL in the playoffs, golf’s U.S. Open teeing off, MLS in full swing along with myriad other events — the fact that we’re still checking Mariners scores is significant.
And, of course, it raises questions. Should the Mariners call up outfielder Jarred Kelenic and pitcher Logan Gilbert up from the minors, as colleague Larry Stone suggested? Yes, there were plans for these young players that did not include time in the big leagues this year.
But we’re talking about a 19-year playoff drought in a season that allows 16 teams in the postseason. A chance such as this might not come around again.
Of course, there are still a couple weeks to go, and the budding buzz around the M’s season might be followed by the usual disappointment. So pleased as Servais might be with the team’s play over the past few weeks, he’s far from content.
“We still have a long ways to go. We’re looking forward to the final 12 games here. I think they’re gonna be fun for our players to play out and see how they react in that environment, but again this is what we’re striving for,” said the skipper. “We’ve seen improvements this year, but we still have a ways to go.”
Nobody will dispute that. This is far from a finished product. But given what the expectations were, and given the insanity of 2020, the fact that the Mariners are relevant in mid-September makes this a successful season.