Every other day, being a .500 team feels pretty great. Today's one of those days, and tomorrow probably won't be. Caught between a Felix Hernandez gem and Brandon Maurer starting against one of the best offenses in baseball, I'm not sure there's a day that better encapsulates the emotion that comes with being a .500 ball club.
Now, I can't speak with any level of certainty because it's happened so many times already. The Mariners sit at exactly .500 for the seventh time this year. They're 18-18 since April 16th. They're 10-10 since May 5th. They're 2-2 since last Thursday. And, if you round the calculations, Fangraphs projects them to go 56-56 the rest of the way.
The Mariners, as currently constructed, are a .500 baseball team. It's what many of us had hoped for. Before this season, I said that I just wantedf things to matter, to still care about everthing as the season progressed. And we still have that.
After the Mariners lost to the Angels two nights ago, I saw someone on Twitter lament that the Mariners failed to seize the opportunity to pick up a game in the standings on the Athletics, and it was something I didn't scoff at. There are those willing to call this race already, and I don't blame them for a second, but I'll keep peeking at the standings—and the scoreboard—so long as the Mariners stay within a winning streak of being in the thick of the race. So far, so good.
So yes, had you told me in March the Mariners would be here, at .500 and five-and-a-half games back of first with June here by the end of the weekend, I would've taken it. But, maybe it's just me here, though I'd wager it isn't—this is surprisingly frustrating.
As you've likely become aware, and even more probably grown tired of, my status here is resident optimist. Or excuse-maker, or whatever. But there was one thing that frustrated be throughout the winter, and into the spring: we never fully got a sense for what these team actually is.
The Opening Day 25-man roster gave a sense of finality, that the guys we had were the guys we were going with—but even then, injuries served as placeholders, and late-April demotions and roster shuffling served as a reset. While I still have hope for upward regression, and will until scalpel meets shoulder, the full realization is here: the Mariners are a .500 team.
I thought finally knowing who the M's are would bring some sense of satisfaction, a level of content. Nope. It's the opposite.
Every other day is a reminder that this team can be good, and highly entertaining. On the others, it's affirmation that this club has holes that need patching, ones that should've been taped up long ago. Even looking past the daily grind, you can see the glimmering ray of light that is James Paxton and Taijuan Walker's potential returns. But that's after a three-game set against the Tigers and a trip out East—a stretch with the potential to doom the season.
Just over a year ago, in the heart of a similar road trip, I danced across my living room when Tom Wilhelmsen got Robinson Cano looking, stranding a man on third and pulling the Mariners within a game of .500 at 20-21. One game below bred hope for contention, it felt like standing on the precipice of so much more. Now it's like trying to catch one's balance on the edge of a cliff.
Maybe it's the lack of style points that brought me here. Surely had the Mariners gone about this a different way, I'd feel differently about the team. If it had been Brad Miller and Corey Hart and Robinson Cano—with a career triple-slash more closely mirroring his career line—leading an above average offense as the fill-in rotation struggled, there'd be optimism abound.
Alas, it's been an ugly .500—and after all we've been through, years of playing "Is that the last time we'll see .500?" in April, I can't believe that's a phrase I'm even writing. But it's true. The offense has been its usual self as key pieces have struggled, the M's have benefited enormously from better-than-expected pitching from back-end starters and unsustainable timely hitting stands as the biggest reason this team is where it is.
So you can look at things with optimism, as many have, and as as I try to. After all of this, all the ugly, the Mariners are still right here—right where we wanted. But still, regression be damned, using "things have been bad" as a reason for things to stop being bad isn't the most reaassuring thing to do. But what else is there? This team's going to need more than Paxton and Walker, and even their returns are far from a certainty.
At some point, this team needs to play better. I know they can, but I don't know if they will.
There should be some level of comfort in knowing what this team is. I thought there would be, but there isn't—because until they're good, there's always the frustration that goes with trying to figure out what they're going to be.