Around the Horn

M's keep on being relevant

I still don't think they're going to do it. I still think they're too flawed, too raw, and too poorly constructed. And I still see the obstacles in their way to be, while not insurmountable, significant.

The 20-year drought:
How close were the M's?

Year Record on Sept. 9
(Div GB/WC GB)
Final record
(Div GB/WC GB)
2021 76-64 (5½ / 2½) TBD
2020 19-24 (8 / 2½) 27-33 (9 / 2)
2019 58-86 (36½ / 26) 68-94 (39 / 28)
2018 79-64 (10 / 7½) 89-73 (14 / 8)
2017 71-71 (15 / 3) 78-84 (23 / 7)
2016 73-68 (10½ / 3½) 86-76 (9 / 3)
2015 67-73 (9 / 7) 76-86 (12 / 10)
2014 79-65 (10 / –) 87-75 (11 / 1)
2013 65-79 (18½ / 14) 71-91 (25 / 19)
2012 67-74 (16½ / 11½) 75-87 (19 / 18)
2011 61-83 (20½ / 24) 67-95 (29 / 24)
2010 55-85 (22 / 29½) 61-101 (29 / 34)
2009 72-68 (12 / 9½) 85-77 (12 / 10)
2008 56-87 (30½ / 28½) 61-101 (39 / 34)
2007 75-66 (8 / 5) 88-74 (6 / 6)
2006 68-73 (13 / 14) 78-84 (15 / 17)
2005 61-79 (18 / 18½) 69-93 (26 / 26)
2004 52-87 (29 / 32) 63-99 (29 / 35)
2003 82-62 (2½ / 2) 93-69 (3 / 2)
2002 84-59 (7 / 4) 93-69 (10 / 6)

Yet, there they are. Your Seattle Mariners are, on September 9th of a standard 162-game season, twelve games over .500, in second place in the AL West and in fourth place in the two-berth Wild Card race. Three possible postseason slots are within sight. To reach one, the M's would need to close a gap of 5½ games to reach the Astros in the division or 2½ games to reach the second WC slot, vaulting over two of the three teams ahead of them (Toronto, Boston, and the Yankees), then maintain it the rest of the way.

It's plenty doable. 22 games remain to be played on Seattle's schedule, including three against Boston. But it's not just up to the Mariners—they'd need help. They are (mercifully) done with the Astros, so winning the division would require other clubs beating Houston enough times and Houston's schedule still has series with doormats Texas and Arizona and two series each with Oakland and the Angels, teams the Astros have had no trouble with this year. To claim a Wild Card berth, the Mariners need to rely on at least two of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays losing enough games; the M's also will have to hold off the Oakland A's, who are right behind Seattle and are plenty capable of going on a run of their own.

Since the three eastern teams play each other a number of times, guaranteeing a few losses (the Yankees play Boston and Toronto a combined seven times yet, though Boston and the Jays are done with each other), the M's could conceivably claim a Wild Card slot without help from others just by winning their own games, but that seems highly improbable. The longest winning streak Seattle's had this year is five games (done twice). If they were to take two games of each remaining series, they'd go 14-8 the rest of the way, which while very impressive and would give them a season mark of 90-72, would still likely leave them in a dogfight with multiple clubs for the WC unless the Astros collapse hard in the division.

Possible. I mean, it's happened before—on this date in 1995, the M's were still six games behind the Angels in the West (though they had by then claimed the lead in the Wild Card race). 2½ games for the WC seems like nothing much, but it's a five-team scramble for two berths. And even if they do claim a Wild Card slot, they still would have to win the WC play-in game to get to the "real" playoffs.

So I remain pessimistic.

But it has been fun, hasn't it? I mean, Astro games notwithstanding. No matter what, this Mariner club has outperformed the expectations of most alleged experts and observers, and has done so despite some truly anemic batting performances and a woefully understaffed bench. Going by run differential, this is a club that should be ten games below .500, but instead they turn it on in the clutch. They're 11 games over .500 at home despite hitting significantly better on the road. The overall team on-base percentage is pathetic at barely .300, yet when runners are in scoring position it's a more-than-respectable .346. The team has significantly fewer hits than their pitching staff has given up, has scored 53 fewer runs than their opponents, and have had to manage a starting rotation that has been walloped by injuries. It is nothing short of amazing that this team is where it is.

May the Mariners prove me wrong. Just because I don't think they'll make it to the postseason doesn't mean they won't. After all, it's clutch time. All "high-leverage situations" from here on out. And that's when this team does its best work.