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The Mariners and the glory (or lack thereof) of first place

Perhaps this year will be the year we finally taste the success?

High fives for everyone.
High fives for everyone.
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Because of both wild cards, first place standings in the division don't mean very much. But when you wake up in the morning and see the Seattle Mariners at the top of the standings, it feels pretty good. Thing is, as we are all aware, the Seattle Mariners haven't spent much time at the top of the standings.

It almost feels like ages, but that is because the Mariners just haven't been good for ages. In reality, it hasn't been *too* long since the Mariners were in first place. In fact, all we have to do is go back to April 11, 2014, when the Mariners had a half-game lead over the Oakland Athletics.


Then the whole thing went downhill starting on April 12, and the Mariners never tasted first place again for the rest of 2014.


As Bill Chuck wrote for Daily Gammons, the Mariners haven't enjoyed a lot of time at the top, just 96 days in the past 10 seasons. 2003 is a long time away. What I was interested in, however, is how bad of a total is 96 days compared to the rest of the league? There have been a lot of bad teams alongside the Mariners for the past decade. Or teams could just be mired in grindhouses like the AL East. 96 games can't be that bad, can it?

A quick aside, right here we are talking about how many mornings the Mariners saw the sun rise over Mt. Rainier, opened the newspaper and saw Seattle sitting either alone, or tied, atop the standings in the AL West.

So back to how bad it can be. Turns out, it can be really bad. The Mariners 96 games over the past decade is second-worst in the major leagues to a rather unsurprising team, the Houston Astros. For the most part, it gets pretty ugly pretty fast. The Mariners are in some pretty dubious territory here and a lot of the baseball world has left Seattle behind over the past decade.

team total days avg per year team total days avg per year
Arizona 451 45.1 Milwaukee 482 48.2
Atlanta 564 56.4 Minnesota 241 24.1
Baltimore 297 29.7 New York Mets 436 43.6
Boston 761 76.1 New York Yankees 606
Chicago Cubs 233 23.3 Oakland 474 47.4
Chicago White Sox 576 57.6 Philadelphia 523 52.3
Cincinnati 338 33.8 Pittsburgh 130 13.0
Cleveland 316 31.6 San Diego 435 43.5
Colorado 120 12.0 San Francisco 369 36.9
Detroit 853 85.3 Seattle 96 9.6
Houston 31 3.1 St. Louis
893 89.3
Kansas City 126 12.6 Tampa 305 30.5
Los Angeles Angels 747 74.7 Texas 761 76.1
Los Angeles Dodgers 692 69.2 Toronto 171 17.1
Miami 156 15.6 Washington 380 38.0

Oof. The average throughout the major leagues was a total of 418 games spent in first place over the past decade, or over a month of sunshine and rainbow each season. The Mariners are barely over a week of sunshine and rainbows each season. Interestingly enough, however, the Mariners aren't the most depressing team, year in and year out.

That distinction belongs to the Houston Astros, who last tasted any sort of sustainable success in 2006, where they held the lead in the NL Central for a total of 19 days. Since then, the Astros haven't even tasted first place for one day in a season in five of seven years. In fact, the Mariners, although pretty pathetic on the AL West crown frontrunner notion, have held the lead (even if just for a couple days) every year for the past decade. The Mariners bottomed out at a short two-day window in 2011 and enjoyed the longest bout of success in 2009 over the course of 27 days.

Most teams sit within that average to a certain degree, and that shows the cyclical nature of baseball. 16 teams in baseball have held onto first place in their division for at least 140 days in the past decade. Being in first place obviously isn't the end all be all. There are six teams that have woken up in first place for 200 days or less in the past decade. The Colorado Rockies have made two playoff appearances. The Pirates have finally turned it around in the past two years. The Royals could have won the World Series if Madison Bumgarner didn't exist. The Mariners are in some pretty lowly territory almost all by themselves (hello Astros).

That is what makes the prospect of this upcoming season that much more exciting. The Mariners are projected to win the AL West crown. Projections leave plenty of room to go wrong. But if it all goes right, the Mariners, and their fans, will finally start to remember what it feels like to be on top.