The disposition of an optimist is often attributed to the "dope". An optimist is someone who either does not recognize the facts, or has them all and ignores them anyway, to their eventual detriment. In this large sphere of sports analytics, optimism is not what we're looking for. The search for truth in numbers ignores the human element in sport, instead, this human factor is relegated to "noise". There are peaks and valleys weeks, months and seasons long that don't really make sense, they simply exist. What sense is there to be made of the Astros this season? The Cubs? The Mariners? Nathan and I discussed this post, this "David, tell them why you believe the Mariners are going to the playoffs" post on Sunday, before the Baltimore series even began. I'm a damned, dirty optimist. If noise is what humans are, then sports are awfully loud.
47. There are 47 games left on the Seattle Mariners' schedule. Since the late May-early June seven-game losing streak, the M's are 30-30 and have gained a game and a half in the standings. The AL is middling, or beats itself up, depending on how you want to frame that narrative. The Toronto Blue Jays have changed the entire narrative of their season by winning 13 of their last 14. The Seattle Mariners just won three series in a row for the first time since last season and this article is being published on the back of the first no-hitter in the American League for almost three years. According to a calculation published last year, the odds of throwing a no-hitter are something like 1/1500.
84. Currently, the second Wild Card is projected to be somewhere between 84/85 games. To get there, the M's will have to leapfrog eight teams while going 30-17 or 31-16 the rest of the way. That's playing .640 ball the rest of the way out. The AL West is projected for 87 wins by the Astros. To take the West, the M's will have to go 33-14 the rest of the way, leapfrogging less teams, but having to win more games. As of right now, the best 47-game stretch for the M's this season has been 23-24. It all seems a bit dire, a bit die-or-die.
I want to change emphasis here, away from the numbers. Let's move away from the cold, hard scenario this team faces to make the playoffs to the actual mentality of a baseball player. Baseball is a game of failure. This is a fact that you have to accept at an incredibly young age to be successful in this game. In a culture, that rightly so, focuses on positive reinforcement in its youth, some still play baseball. In school, if you succeeded 4/10 times on a test you would take that class over again. In baseball, if you did that at the plate, you're in the damn Hall of Fame. Every single player in the Bigs understands the wild odds against them. They play anyway.
What I'm trying to get to is that to play baseball you have to be an optimist. You know the facts, you know the odds of getting a hit as you walk up to the plate. Those odds do not enter your mind. You see, this is what optimism means to me, to anyone who has had to perform this task. It is not idiocy, not dopey, no. This is something stronger. It is staring those cold, hard numbers in the eyes and believing you will conquer them. It is knowing that one of those thousands of home runs you have hit in batting practice is coming this at-bat. It's feeling the barehanded play before it happens. The diving catch and the grass feels so welcome as you slide and raise your glove in the air, baseball within. Mentally, you have to be so assured of a successful outcome for an actual positive outcome to be possible.
When Robinson Cano walks to the plate, he does not consider that, according to the past, he has essentially a 3/10 chance of getting a hit. If he did, he would be ruined. He would have lost before ever swinging his bat. The acceptance of failure is psychologically vital, but in the immediate moment, even the most brief acknowledgement of it will be doom. And this begins to reach the point where numbers can no longer stretch. Positive reinforcement, visualization, and its eventual leading to a positive result. These are not quantifiable by going back and looking at records, checking pitch movement, analyzing hits against the shift, or any thing we can tangibly grasp. But that is why we love sports. They provide something beyond the tangible.
1/20 The playoff odds for the Seattle Mariners sit somewhere around 5%. These are the same projection systems that called the Mariners an essential lock for a playoff spot. The same projection system that would have previously, in March, made 84/85 even 87 wins seem like a no-brainer for this team. In the sixteen games between tomorrow and the beginning of the Astros series starting the 31st, the Mariners play the White Sox for seven games, the Red Sox for three, Rangers for three, and the A's for three. Sixteen games all against teams below .500. September brings a calendar where we play the AL West for essentially the entire month. Call the odds what you want, but they are essentially the same as a Jesus Sucre RBI double.
.640 Earlier I stated the Seattle Mariners will have to play .640 ball from here on out to make the projected second Wild Card slot. That is no small feat. That is improbable, nearly impossible. That is going 2-3 almost every night at the plate. That is catching fire, when you look at that number. You know what else is no small feat? Hitting a baseball. Squaring up a round ball on a round bat. You're guessing at the pitch, it's on you in milliseconds. You aren't thinking, you are reacting. It is nearly impossible. The Seattle Mariners record over the same period of time the Blue Jays have won thirteen of fourteen? 9-5. .640 ball.
The Seattle Mariners are going to the playoffs.