You’re a long-suffering Mariners fan whose team is in the midst of a 20-year playoff drought.
You haven’t sat in T-Mobile Park for a postseason game since “Malcolm in the Middle” was a thing.
Disappointment has become the norm. To protect yourself, you guard against an abundance of optimism regardless of the team’s performance.
And yet, here you are. You’re watching a team that came into Saturday five games above .500 despite a -41 run differential. You’re witnessing an organization that’s an astounding three games out of the wild-card race despite being 31-35 just three weeks ago.
So you turn to general manager Jerry Dipoto, the architect of the rebuild that began three seasons ago, and you think, “I’m glad he has to decide what to do before the trade deadline and not me.”
This is a legitimate problem, folks. The Mariners have been punching up all season long, but do they have a real chance to punch their ticket to the playoffs? This young squad has defied expectations, but does that mean you should expect them to keep this pace up? A few weeks ago, the team’s strategy for the July 31 trade deadline seemed clear — sell off veterans with expiring contracts and continue to add to the young core. But now … man, you have to wonder if Dipoto is tempted to go for it and become a buyer.
One of the arguments for doing so is this 20-year postseason skid. It might not be a good argument, but when you have the longest playoff drought in major American pro sports, your fan base becomes continuously antsy. How many times can the truck driver who sits in the nose bleeds five times a year hear “we’re getting closer” before cracking his flatscreen with his remote? If there is even a hint of a chance of playing into October, a significant amount of fans will be clamoring for Dipoto to make a big move.
Another argument is that the Mariners really are within striking distance for the wild card. Toward the end of June, when they popped above .500 for the first time in weeks, it was a fun but relatively meaningless accomplishment. Tampa Bay and Oakland — both second in their divisions — were on pace to win 95 games, seemingly rendering the M’s playoff hopes futile. But before Saturday’s game, the A’s had lost six of their last 10. The Rays had lost their last five. Seattle, meanwhile, is approaching “hottest team in baseball” status, with 13 wins in their last 17 outings before Saturday’s contest. And their last three series wins have come against clubs with winning records (the White Sox, Rays and Blue Jays.)
But then there’s the more sobering argument — that this can’t possibly last. Fangraphs.com isn’t gospel, but it is only giving the Mariners (44-39 before Saturday) a 2.9 percent chance of making the playoffs. For context, it’s giving the Blue Jays (43-38) a 50.7 percent chance and the Yankees (41-40) a 41.7 percent chance, and they’re both well behind the Red Sox and Rays in the AL East. A -41 run differential is telling. You could contend that the M’s 19-6 record in one-run games and 10-1 record in extra-inning games is a sign of grit (and maybe a great bullpen) — but the stat geeks will tell you it’s more a sign of luck.
These things tend to balance out. The law of averages suggest the Mariners will regress to the mean and start dropping some of these close and prolonged contests. Then again, with enough pixie dust, teams can defy probabilities all season long.
Dipoto appeared on 710 ESPN a few days ago and sounded somewhat non-committal.
“When I started this 10 years ago as a general manager, you approached the trade deadline as a buyer or seller,” he said. “Now you approach the trade deadline and the more modern feel for it is you are willing to listen in both of those areas. And if you can do something that makes sense to improve your present day team while you’re also addressing the future, or if you can improve your present day team without detracting from your future. It’s a very sensitive line that you’re walking, but it can be done.”
We’re still four weeks away from the deadline. A lot can change. But a few weeks ago, it appeared the Mariners’ record would make Dipoto’s approach easy. Not anymore.
It’s a good problem to have, but still one that must be solved.