The Seattle Mariners are average. It feels good.
Baseball, despite all of it's interruptions, surprises, and heartbreak, is unrelenting. As fans, we have wild swings in emotion that send us tumbling down dark paths for days, weeks, months, lives. We're occasionally popped out of those downward spirals for moments of clarity and optimism, and those peaks often have to do with our expectations. The Mariners were not expected to be as bad as they were during their seven game losing streak, and they aren't supposed to be as good as they are playing right now. They were supposed to be this cumulative result, but not what brought them to this.
Average. 15-15. 126 runs scored, 126 runs allowed. Zero run differential. 4-4 in one run games. A 15-15 pythag record. One crushing loss from a Brad Miller mistake, and another gifted win from an unassisted Justin Smoak double play. It's almost boring how dead middle this team is from an outsider's perspective, ignoring the roller coaster path that took them here. Eight straight losses, another squad seemingly dead to rights before the summer even begun. Not yet. Now, 8-2 in their last 10 games, with both losses coming from Felix Hernandez starts. A makeshift rotation holding itself together despite extended absences from 60% of expected contributors.
Given what the Mariners and their fans have been through, going well beyond this season, average at this point feels comforting. There's still so much more to hope for in the coming months -- a resurgent Michael Saunders replacing Abraham Almonte, the possible return of a dominant James Paxton and the debut of Taijaun Walker. Brad Miller sorting himself out, Hisashi Iwakuma's rise back to the top. When you look from above at how the team below got to the point they're at right now, there's no red flags that indicate they haven't earned every ounce of it. Yet this team is still, in many ways, a shell of what it could be.
Coming into the season, it was written, on this site and many others, that the Mariners were extremely volatile. If everything broke right, they could win 90+ games as easily as they could lose the same. The team has demonstrated all of that volatility at once, with breakout performances from unexpected contributors like Roenis Elias and Chris Young, and a step forward from Mike Zunino. But it's also weathered the unexpected collapse from Brad Miller, inconsistent results from Dustin Ackley and Corey Hart, and another year in the mud with Justin Smoak.
Robinson Cano hasn't even been good yet. More offense is coming before less offense is coming. More pitching is coming too, though it might be coupled with some bad pitching from a select few who seem doomed for darker days. They might be replaced, or re-assigned, before that impactful slide comes. Some downward pitching regression is coming, but the offensive arrow should be pointing up. Two lines, good and bad, constantly dancing back and forth against each other to make one, smooth, flat line.
The Mariners are currently a half game out of the second Wild Card spot. They're only three games back of first place in the AL West. 11 different teams are within two games of a playoff spot right now, with Houston being the only team that has really seemed to distance themselves from any rational glimmer of hope. It's almost as if the season has just begun, and everyone still has hope. But for the Mariners it seems like somewhat of a feat to be mentioned, with justification, as a playoff contender in the month of May. Simply because of what's yet to come. Or at least could come.
Last year, the Mariners were 13-17 at this point. They were the same in 2012, and 14-16 in 2011. That 2011 Mariners team flirted with .500 for over half the year before burying themselves with a seventeen game losing streak. It could happen again. This year the Mariners feel like a team about to hit their stride, not one that's just happy to be where they're at. They haven't lucked into this, and a brighter future with better health and better offense is around the corner.
It's optimistic, and it's emotional. Despite the analytic nature of many of us, there's still room for dreaming, and right now, the numbers match the dream. We're not crazy. It's May 6th, and the Mariners have a 24% chance of making the playoffs.
The story is the same as before. A highly volatile roster capable of contending for the playoffs or scrambling for respectability. They're dead in the middle 30 games in, and there's a strange comfort to it.