There are two ways to view this Mariners season and what it means for the team and the city. Two ways to process the unforeseen playoff push that ultimately extended the organization’s 20-year postseason drought.
One is the sentimental way. The other is the realistic way.
Let’s start with the sentimentality.
This was one of the more captivating runs a Seattle sports team has made in years. The expectations for this club were rarely higher than a street curb.
They were coming off consecutive losing seasons. They were five games below .500 in late May. Their heralded youngsters were struggling to produce or stay healthy, and yet … they never disappeared.
They’d lose 5 out of 6 in August and seem out of contention, then win 8 of their next 10 to spring back to relevance. They’d drop a mid-September game to the lowly Royals to fall four games back of the final wild-card spot, then win 10 of their next 11 to seize control of their postseason destiny.
No, it didn’t work out in the end. The Mariners (90-72) lost to the Angels 7-3 in their season finale Sunday and finished two back of the Yankees and Red Sox in the wild-card standings. But given their not-so-star-studded roster — given all the one-run wins and extra-inning victories — how much disappointment can they really feel?
“I’m not gonna look back on this season with any sort of negativity,” Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager said. “It was a special run we went on. It was a special group. We came up short, obviously, right, but it wasn’t for a lack of caring. It wasn’t for a lack of work.”
The “special run” prompted sellout crowds at T-Mobile Park for the final three games of the season. The last time the stands at an M’s game were at full capacity was on opening day in 2019.
Fans hoisted their “Believe” signs, produced deafening cheers, and, on Sunday, chanted “Ky-le Sea-ger!” when it appeared the veteran was playing his final game as a Mariner after 11 seasons with the team. (It is unlikely Seattle will pick up the $20 million option on his contract next season.)
Those chants grew louder when Mariners manager Scott Servais pulled Seager in the top of ninth so that he could receive his curtain call, prompting tears from teammates saluting him in the infield. It was perhaps the happiest defeat the Mariners have experienced, as the 44,229 fans gave them an enduring ovation after Mitch Haniger struck out to end the game.
“The energy that they (the fans) brought is tremendous, not only for our team and organization but I think the whole community,” Servais said. “Baseball is back in Seattle.”
But then there’s reality.
Baseball may feel back in Seattle, but that’s not necessarily the case. The Mariners’ grit and poise throughout the season helped them win 90 games, but there was also an element of good fortune.
You don’t go 33-19 in one-run games without a few assists from Lady Luck. Same can be said about going 14-7 in extra-inning contests.
Whether they like it or not, the expectations for the Mariners next year are going to be loftier than Columbia Tower sitting atop Mount Rainier. But do they have the talent to meet them?
Sabermetric formulas suggest that, based on production, the M’s should have only won 76 games this season. They did, after all, allow 51 more runs than they scored.
Meanwhile, young players such as Jarred Kelenic and Evan White struggled for much of the year, and reigning American League Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis battled injury.
In short: This team might not really be that good. That’s often the case when you have the sixth-lowest payroll in a 30-team league. So will the Mariners spend this offseason and acquire a game-changing free agent or two? Because there are still a lot of holes — particularly when it comes to the guys swinging the bats.
“We need to get better offensively. There’s no question about it. We certainly struggled early in the season and the reason we were able to put this phenomenal run together in the month of September is because our offense became much more consistent,” Servais said. “That’s the one area that we do need to get better at, you know, more consistent offense, and you can’t just rely on one or two guys every night.”
It’s hard to know how one season will translate to the next. The last two times the Mariners made playoff pushes (2014 and 2016) they finished below .500 the following year. The Giants, meanwhile, went 29-31 last season and 107-55 this one.
What we know is that the Mariners have some pieces and, over the past couple of weeks, captured the city’s attention. But they have a whole lot of work to do this offseason if they want to keep it.