The season ends every year for every team. That much is true. In fact, the season even ends for teams that win the World Series.
The thing about ending, though, is that despite its aura of incidental finality, it arrives at different times to different people. I think this is what Einstein was talking about in his theory of general relativity, but I couldn't really tell you for sure. Likewise, I think the Mariners are a good baseball team, but I couldn't really tell you for sure.
A few hours ago, the Mariners were involved in a meaningful baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays. For the first hour and a half of that game, the Mariners were playing with playoff hopes vibrant if not misguided, but acute, actualized, material. By the time Michael Saunders struck out to end the 10-2 grubbing in the top of the ninth inning, it was all but over.
The Mariners season did not end tonight, at least on paper. But it seems as good a time as any to declare their playoff hopes dead. The Mariners are currently three games back with only five to go, and barring a further collapse from Royals and Athletics teams that have apparently found their mojo again in the past week, they will be playing their remaining games as a prelude to a 2015 season that seems a whole hell of a lot brighter than anyone could have predicted in April of this year.
The problem, of course, is how the last week ended up unfolding. It would be different if the Mariners exceeded their abilities to find themselves in the middle of a playoff hunt, colliding with teams far superior to themselves as if they had snuck into the advanced calculus course with only a smile for a mask and a little rudimentary geometry under their belts. That wasn't the case.
No, the Mariners took advantage of timely collapses by the Athletics, Rangers, Red Sox, Rays, and to a lesser extent, Tigers to get into the playoff hunt this season. Those collapses were far out of their control and peppered throughout the season almost at random, but baseball only gifts survivors, not the needy: In short, this year was the best time to take advantage of a league-wide weakness to sneak into the playoffs. And they blew it.
The Mariners also took advantage of a wildly over-performing pitching staff, both from their starting rotation and unlikely bullpen. The Mariners haven't been a good offensive team for thirteen years, and while this one was built on pitching perhaps even more than usual, further success was reliant on perhaps unsustainable performances from a pitching staff that had all pitched well beyond their recent (or career) inning highs. Pitching alone is never enough to win baseball games. In short, this year's unlikely performance gave the Mariners their best shot at making the playoffs, but they ended up being undone by the very thing that carried them this far in the first place. They blew it.
The Mariners made seriously smart decisions around and before the trade deadline, adding a low-risk player like Kendrys Morales (who seemed to have nowhere to trend but upward, or at least, would cost nothing), and swapping underperforming prospects for the plus-win offense/defense centerfielder they had coveted ever since Franklin Gutierrez crumbled into a million pieces of dust. They picked up a bat that was deteriorating on the Padres' roster beloved by sabermetricians and numbers people the world over. And then they all joined Guti in spirit. They blew it.
In short, the Mariners didn't accidentally stumble into a playoff hunt they had no business being in. They rightfully took advantage of their first chance to make the playoffs in thirteen years, and then fell face first into the chopped rubber track a full lap before crossing the finish line. The Mariners may have overperformed to get here, but they violently underperformed once the door to the postseason was opened. And that's why this was all so hard to take. It's hard because they weren't simply defeated by superior teams. They simply blew it.
Today will probably go down as the game that sunk the ship. It saw Felix joining the ranks of Chris Young and Iwakuma to implode in one of his worst starts in recent memory, only lasting 4.2 innings while being charged with eight runs. He was supported with six hits from Mariner bats, and only two runs. The Blue Jays seemed to snag every Mariner hit out of thin air, turning double plays with their eyes closed while balls bounced out of Cano's glove and found gaps in the Mariners' field like magnets. It, like all the other recent implosions, was just another set of inches down the hill by a car tumbling rapidly, inflamed, hemorrhaging gasoline and rubber.
There are still games left to be played, but they probably aren't going to matter. That is nothing new to you, or me, or any of the players in the dugout. Clearly the difference is that we have arrived at that state in late September for the first time in a long time. Over the next couple of months there will be a lot about this team to analyze: pitching performances, breakout offensive players, free agents or possible trades. There will be looking forward and looking backward. What I hope happens, though, is akin to what happened after the A's were eliminated in the playoffs in 2012: a nearly sold-out O.co filled with fans chanting Thank You because their team had overperformed what everyone had laid out before them.
Barring some sort of miracle, Safeco is probably going to be empty during the final series with the Angels this weekend. It's a shame, really, because this team deserves so much more than we can give them. They have carried our interest deeper than it has been in over a decade. They have given us incredible outings from a Cy Young winner and a few rookies who weren't supposed to be doing what they did, and had a first year manager who actually spoke words in his post-game interviews rather than gibberish after a pulled string from his back. They have made us believe in baseball in the Emerald City again even for a second, and don't tell me you knew it was all going to end up this way because even though you are right, there was at least a second you doubted yourself, and that in and of itself is a fucking miracle with this team.
The season ends every year for every team. It may have just ended tonight for the Mariners. Every single one of the words I just wrote could become irrelevant by Sunday afternoon, but they probably wont. And then, 2015 will be shining brighter than any Next Year has shone in a long, long time.