The Mariners are bad at home and good on the road. They play well against good teams and falter against inferior opponents. For nearly the entirety of the year, these truisms have been repeated at every opportunity—and oh, there have been plenty of opportunities.
At first, it seemed like random variation—and it probably is still just that—and the initial reaction was to dismiss it completely because of its subtle implication, that when given favorable conditions, this team lets up and gives away crucial opportunities when it should capitalize. But those opportunities wouldn't stop coming.
Strong stretches gave way to ugly series against inferior teams and bouts of mediocre play at home—frequently at the same time. So we repeated what bordered on becoming a mantra, because it reminded us that the Mariners could turn things around, because they'd turned things around before.
Around these parts though, we have a good idea for how to determine which statistics are valuable and which are closer to trivia answers. "Is it sustainable?" "Is it predictive?" are the tests by which any new statistic is measured against before it's dismissed as basic variance, or "noise."
This, this is noise. By all accounts, the ability to win on the road—or win against good teams—is not quantifiably a repeatable skill. There's nothing that says that, because the Mariners have exceeded expectations against good teams so far, that they will again.
Still, that's where I'm a little lost, or a little delusional if that's what it is.
The Mariners have done this before. They've had their season pushed seemingly to the brink, and they've climbed off the mat to throw punches when they could barely see straight. Borrowing from Matt's conclusion to yesterday's recap, what the Mariners are doing doesn't have to make any sense, or have any magic to it.
More than the lineups, it's about weird way they've accumulated what to this point are surprising win-loss totals. They have to keep doing the goofy shit they've done thus far because really, it's not like they have a choice. That's who they've been all season, and it's who they need to be right now. It's fitting then, that as they come down the final stretch, sprinting the last 100 meters of a 1600m race with their arms and legs flailing, they do so in Anaheim.
After everything that's happened, after a baseball season flush with memorable moments, but one that has flown by more than any I can ever remember, there's still this:
- When the Mariners went to bed on Opening Day Eve in Anaheim, their playoff odds—per Fangraphs—were 33.8 percent.
- When their heads popped off their pillows this morning, staring down a crucial series against the best team in baseball, their playoff odds were 33.6 percent.
The bad: after all the work they've done so far, after all they've done to exceed nearly everyone's expectations, they're back to where they started.
The good, again: they've done this before. They've raised these odds in chunks many times this season—hell, by the time they left Los Angeles on April 2nd, they were up above 40 percent. They're going to swing a lot faster now, as we've seen over the past 48 hours, and they're capable of swinging them again.
Now whether they do or not, I don't know. This past week has been a crucible for my own fandom, and the brutal losses brought about by countless missed opportunities—namely the Kendrys Morales double plays—have drawn out levels of negativity I haven't felt all year, and I look back on some of the opinions I've shared, comments I've tweeted, and feel like an idiot.
For the longest time, I had visions of this somehow not coming down to the very end, that Oakland or Anaheim would stay out in front of the WC1 race and the Mariners would glide into the final series something like three or four up, not having to worry about their season being on the line before it absolutely needed to be. That's not going to happen, and it's probably fair to say it was never going to be that easy.
So here they are, being tasked with doing the same thing they were at the beginning of the year—overcoming the odds, and a brutally unfair schedule. They start it off, again, in Anaheim, the birthplace of this season, and all the joyous nonsense that's come with it:
There's no guarantee that this nonsense will continue. Maybe it stops right here, and the better team outplays the inferior one in an environment tilting the outcome even more in their favor. Or maybe the Mariners push back the ever-encroaching line of reason, regression and rationality just another few weeks. Maybe it doesn't hit until 2015, when whatever they're doing starts to normalize and they have to win like everyone else wins.
But right now, there aren't any options. They can't capitalize on soft stretches at home, they can't afford to just keep their head above water against good teams. They're "gonna go on the road and try to win," and they better do just that.
They're all out of options, but the road they're forced to take now is the same one they've taken all year. If they navigate it one more time, they're in. If not, it's been quite the ride.