Season ends for M's at 162
Kyle Seager is embraced by J.P. Crawford as Mitch Haniger, Abraham Toro, and Ty France hover nearby in the closing moments of game 162. It was very likely Seager's last game in a Mariner uniform.
October 4, 2021
Well, that was anti-climactic.
Just this morning the baseball world was preparing for chaos, as the possibility of Game 163s was prevalent as the theoretically last day of the season was about to get underway. The National League West could finish in a tie, necessitating a Game 163 for the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers. The American League Wild Card was a mess, with four teams within one game of both berths—there could be a two-way, three-way, or four-way tie to be resolved depending on how the day's games played out. And Your Seattle Mariners were one of those teams.
Alas, it was not to be.
In the end, there was no chaos. No ties to be broken, no 163rd game for anyone to be played tomorrow. Despite all the energy and tense anticipation, the 2021 season ended with a whimper in the Northwest.
The Mariners didn't do themselves any favors, falling behind in their game against the LA Angels almost immediately. Shohei Ohtani, leading off instead of batting in his customary number-two slot (perhaps in an attempt to keep the M's from intentionally walking him all the time), homered on the third pitch of the game. The Angels would score another in the first inning and two more in the second, putting the M's in a daunting hole. Seattle clawed back for two runs in the home second, but after that the offense did what it's done for much of the now-completed season: it fell asleep. LA would keep on scoring, with two more in the third on another home run from first baseman Jared Walsh (his second of the series) and another in the fifth on an RBI triple by horribly-slumping second baseman David Fletcher. Seattle would muster enough for one more run in the home 6th thanks to a pinch-hit RBI single by Jake Fraley, but nothing more. They would go meekly by a final score of 7-3.
Turned out to be academic, though. Before the game was through the 8th inning, both teams ahead of Seattle in the Wild Card standings, the Yankees and the Red Sox, had finished their own games with victories, giving them each 92 wins and clinching the Wild Card berths.
Sometimes it's a bummer to be right, but... well, as good as they were this year—in surprising and unsurprising ways—I didn't think the Mariners were good enough to make the postseason. They kept trying to prove me wrong; whenever I'd give up on them they'd string together a few wins while teams ahead of them faltered. But the death knell came on Friday night, when the very faults I'd been concerned about all year reared their ugly heads in that night's 2-1 loss to the Angels.
Still, what a season it was. 90 victories is often plenty good enough for a championship team (indeed, in the National League, this year's playoff field includes two teams with 90 or fewer wins, Wild-Card St. Louis and East division winners Atlanta), but 2021 was too tough and as we saw Friday night, to win in a tough season like this, you can't skate on luck, you need to execute. The adage is right: In any given season, your team is going to win 54 games and it's going to lose 54 games. It's what it does with the other 54 that matters. And when playoff berths are won by a single game—or even five games, as the spread was between first and second place in the AL West division—losing any of those other 54 can be huge.
But take heart, Mariner Nation—to get as far as they did was a feat in and of itself. The M's were alive in the race until the very last hour of the 2021 season and they accomplished that despite:
- The worst team batting average in the American League (.226)
- The second-worst on-base mark in the AL (.303)
- A sub-.200 batting average and sub-.300 OBP at home
- Nearly 1,500 batting strikeouts, including 71 with a runner at third and fewer than two outs
- Sub-.200 batting averages from three different defensive positions (catcher, left field, and center field) and sub-.300 on-base percentages from five (catcher, left, center, second base, and third base)
- Injuries to not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, but six starting pitchers, including early season-enders for four of them
- 40 calls for Rafael Montero out of the bullpen
- A first-half slump from ace Marco Gonzales (1-5, 5.88 ERA, 11 starts) and a second-half slump from All-Star Yusei Kikuchi (1-5, 5.98 ERA, 13 starts)
- A bullpen comprised mostly of unheralded retreads and raw rookies (or near-rookies)
- Having no bench to speak of for the entire season
The 2021 M's were stopped just short of the postseason. But the experience of the race, the pressure of these recent backs-to-the-wall games, this will do the young Seattle squad a lot of good when 2022 rolls around. Expectations for this year were undeservedly modest. Expectations for next will be rightfully high.