The atmosphere of the American League West has shifted dramatically in two years. I remember a time of semi-panic near the start of the 2012 season. The Angels had landed baseball's best player and were developing baseball's best prospect. They were coming into a boatload of television money and showing no signs of slowing down their spending. The Rangers were equally rich, packed with top-end major league contributors, and stocked with one of the deepest and most talented farm systems in all of baseball. These two giants were priming to reign supreme over the division for a good long while, leaving the small-market Oakland team and the ever-incompetent Seattle team to meekly crane their necks skyward, captive witnesses to heights unreachable form their meager respective stations. Sure, I still held out hope for the Mariners, sucker that I am. The farm system was promising, and the Zduriencik sheen, while fading, had yet to completely erode. But realistically, the climb to the top looked steep, and long.
Things didn't quite go that way. The Angels have loaded their team with so many massive contracts that the whole thing has tipped over, wheels spinning to nowhere. The Rangers are currently in the middle of their second straight end-of-season collapse. The Astros are now a thing. That leaves the formerly presupposed divisional victims, the Mariners and Athletics. Suffice to say that one of the two teams has surpassed expectations.
The success of the A's, as they subtly loaf their way to a second AL West title, is a passive-aggressive slap in the face to all Mariners supporters. Not only have the A's scaled the division, they've reached the summit faster, smarter, and with gear they found on craigslist. The Mariners are still at sea-level fiddling with the adjustable straps on their North Face backpack. As the unblinking Dave Cameron has pointed out, the A's are currently showcasing Moneyball 2.0, and while the baseball fan in me finds their methodology fascinating, the Mariners fan in me doesn't give a shit about how or why they've manufactured their success. The fact that they're doing it at all is infuriating. I'm in no way enthused that the Mariners are terrible and rudderless, but if the big money Rangers and Angels were battling it out at the top every season like we once presumed, then at least all the failure could be written off as a more severe flavor of inevitable. The Athletics ruin any such
delusion narrative. With less money and a worse stadium, the A's are proving this division is vulnerable. That any team, given the proper leadership and execution, can compete for the postseason. This isn't to say the A's way of winning is the only possible path to success, it just happens to be the most glaring example sat in front of our faces on a regular basis. There is no doubt vast and innumerable combinations of talent, evaluation, management, and process that can lead a team atop their division. Out of all that infinite possibility, the Mariners only have to locate one singular correct formula. I just wish the A's would stop making it look so simple.