I know where the Mariners have been for the past few seasons. I know what we expected of them this year, and I know what we would've been happy with. I know, because I was right there with everyone for the discussions and projections. But please, spare me the lecture about how we should be satisfied with what we've seen take place. I already know what you're going to say, and even if it works for you, it's not what I want to hear, not right now.
The fact of the matter is, on August 24th this team stood at 73-53, a game behind the Angels and three up on the Yankees for the Wild Card. Their odds of making the playoffs were well above 50%, and even a .500 finish would've given them 91 wins and the inside edge on a spot in an October tournament that we haven't seen for six years. They then proceeded to tank, and tank hard. Twelve days later, the season is essentially finished. Barring some kind of miracle, the 2007 Mariners will be playing for just as much in September as the three previous editions.
As time passes, expectations change, and with them the threshold of fulfillment. These things are dynamic. It's why neither the Tigers nor the Cardinals showed up at least year's World Series saying "we're just happy to be here" even though neither of them expected to get that far, not after Detroit's miserable 2005 and St. Louis' winning like 26 games in a talentless division in a talentless league. The higher you are, the more you expect to achieve. Because otherwise, where's the motivation? What would've prevented the Tigers and their fans from just packing it in during the ALCS, since by that point they'd already achieved far more than anyone thought they would? The better you get, the more you want. That's just the natural impulse.
I think we've known for a while that the Mariners aren't one of the four best teams in the AL. The Yankees are clearly better, and the Tigers probably have a bit of an edge too, recent struggles be damned. But that was never the issue. The issue was that, as of August 24th, the Mariners only needed to tread water the rest of the way to basically ensure a playoff spot. Regardless of why each team was where it was two weeks ago, the Mariners had pulled out in front, and no one could take that away from them. Our constantly-changing expectations shifted to become as optimistic as they'd been all season long.
And then the team fell apart in historical fashion. One win, eleven losses, playoffs chances shot to hell. Even the most wildly pessimistic Mariner fan couldn't have predicted a scenario such as the one that's played out. In twelve days, they've given up six games of ground to the Yankees and six and a half to the Angels. That is a spectacular collapse in every sense of the word.
So why should I sit here and be happy with the way the season has gone? The Mariners have done better than a lot of people thought they would, but those preseason expectations went out the window the minute they decided to compete for the playoffs. If I'm a 4.50 ERA starting pitcher, and it's a 1-1 tie in the seventh, and then I allow three runs in the ninth to lose the game, should I be pleased because I did better than the numbers thought I would? Or should I be disappointed, since my meltdown at the end spoiled everything my team and I had worked for?
At the end of the year, when the World Series is over and 29 fan bases reflect on their title-less seasons, I'll be glad that the Mariners kept things as interesting as they did for so long. The official playoffs may not begin until October, but for teams in contention September is kind of a preliminary round, where some people get eliminated and others move on just like they do the next month. In that respect, the Mariners did well for themselves. Legitimacy has been restored for an organization that for three years lacked both success and respect.
But right now, on the heels of perhaps the most devastating stretch of regular season I've seen in my life? Not a chance. For as long as these wounds are fresh, there's no way I'm going to be happy with what the Mariners have achieved. The swiftness with which they've dropped out of the race disgusts me more than anything else, and the team should be ashamed of itself for falling apart when anything - anything - other than a total collapse would've been enough to stay in the race. Two miserable weeks have been enough to completely negate everything they'd done through late August.
I don't believe in teams "choking". I don't like the word, and I don't like the implications. I do, however, believe in teams going belly-up at the most inopportune times imaginable. That's precisely what the Mariners have done over the past twelve days before our very eyes.
So tell me again, why should I be satisfied?
When someone's celebrating a world championship on national television, ask me again, and I'll give you a different answer. But until then, this season has sucked.
Biggest Contribution: Raul Ibanez, +26.6%
Biggest Suckfest: Jose Lopez, -20.4%
Most Important Hit: Ibanez homer, +21.0%
Most Important Pitch: Rodriguez homer, -22.3%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -25.2%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -18.7%
Total Contribution by Opposition: -6.1%
Jarrod Washburn gives up a critical home run on pitch #91. Another critical home run is hit by a total nobody. Yuniesky Betancourt reverts to being a pop-up machine. Team goes 1-8 with men on base and strands a runner on third in the fourth. Ichiro gets called out twice when he was safe both times. King Awesome looks like King Trisomy at the plate. Jose Lopez misplays a throw and a grounder. Raul Ibanez gets thrown out pointlessly trying to extend a single into a double. Alex Rodriguez hobbles way into lineup to clobber two bombs. Umpires randomly turn huge strikes into catastrophic balls. Team eventually let down by the one consistent strength it's had all summer long. Rick White and John Parrish appear. Adam Jones watches from bench. Short of Kenji killing both Felix and JJ in a deadly awkward-high-fiving accident, this game was everything you would've scripted for a Mariner-related nightmare. Because we all know the season can't end with a regular loss. No, it has to be breathtaking. Mission accomplished.
Odds that his performance today sealed Lopez's fate as a soon-to-be ex-Mariner: 60%
Off day tomorrow. Whatever that means.