This space is a no-grump zone today. I’ve come to praise the Mariners, not to bury them. For now, I don’t want to hear griping about the long-term misery behind them, or speculation of the long-term downfalls that might be ahead.
No, for the purposes of this exercise there’s only short-term admiration. The Mariners deserve praise, grudging or otherwise, for what they’ve accomplished this season.
This is a resilient, scrappy, overachieving team. The fancy mathematical projection models universally had the Mariners losing 90-plus games in 2021. In our baseball special section published April 1, Ryan Divish and I both put them down for a relatively optimistic 78-84. Matt Calkins had them at 77-85, Adam Jude at 74-88.
I’ve been forecasting impending doom, privately and publicly, for weeks. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought that the bottom was about to drop out of their season and a stretch of, oh, 15 losses in 18 games was ready to kick off.
But it hasn’t happened. Each time, after the ugliest of losses, the costliest of injuries, the most ominous of series, they’ve staved off disaster. The Mariners did have one horrible stretch of 11 losses in 14 games in May. That put them five games under .500 at 21-26 with a series at first-place Oakland coming up. The collapse was certainly at hand.
But it wasn’t. The Mariners took two out of three from the A’s and swept four in Texas. Disaster averted. Then they promptly lost eight of their next 11 to fall back under .500, and it seemed another inflection point had been reached — the dark, foreboding kind.
Again, they righted themselves, winning eight of their next 10, including an outstanding homestand just completed, to bring them where they stand right, as I write this: Back above .500 at 39-37 entering a road series against the AL Central-leading White Sox.
So my message today — not necessarily next month, or even next week, but now — is to enjoy it while it lasts. We all know it rarely lasts with the Mariners. They’ve had plenty of stretches like this over the past two playoff-barren decades that have raised false hope, only to have reality come crashing down. It could well happen again.
Oops, there I go again, with all that doom and gloom. I promised not to go in that direction, didn’t I? So I won’t even bring up Divish’s article in Friday’s paper that was headlined, “Mariners approach halfway point exceeding expectations, but numbers shed doubts on if they can maintain it.”
And I won’t pull out the worrisome statistics from a recent Calkins column, in which he pointed out that the Mariners’ run differential — minus-48 entering Friday’s game — indicates that a fall is coming.
And I certainly won’t bring up my own buzz-killer of a piece from June 17 that pointed out the troublesome aspects of the Mariners’ rebuild (such as Kyle Lewis’ chronic knee injury and Evan White’s ongoing slump) and wondered if it was still on track.
All that is still viable, but it’s possible to be cynical about the past and skeptical about the future while still savoring the present. Because if you can’t enjoy the good parts when they happen, what’s the use of even investing emotional energy in the team?
Spoiler alert: The Mariners aren’t going to make the playoffs, for the 20th year in a row. To do so would require finishing ahead of one of those four teams: the Astros, A’s, Rays or Red Sox. And beating out the Yankees, Indians and Blue Jays, who are trying to do the same thing. Enjoying the moment isn’t the same as abandoning all reason.
But kudos to the Mariners for perpetually battling, for hitting in the clutch, for greatly exceeding dire preseason predictions of having a subpar bullpen. For playing mostly stellar defense, for integrating a steady stream of players from Tacoma and the waiver wire, for ingesting a heaping of fun into what could have been a joyless year.
And, for the time being, for shutting all of us naysayers up.