On May 28th the Mariners defeated the A’s 13-3, and moved to 28-18. Coming a day after Leonys Martin’s thrilling walk-off home run the team was riding high, emotionally and in the standings. In the seventeen games since the Mariners have fallen flat, going 6-11. In that same span of games the Rangers have ripped off a 13-4 record, to take control of the AL West.
Wails and clothes rending have been de rigueur the past few weeks, there’s no way to spin it. The team now faces a brutal, ten-game East Coast roadtrip before coming back home for nine games against the Cardinals, Pirates, and Orioles. It feels as though the season, once so promising and fun, is slipping back to join all its brethren. Sad, disappointing, Mariners baseball.
It’s a tough stretch, and, like I said a few paragraphs prior, the Mariners have just gotten done doing the baseball equivalent of trying to play Dark Souls with a dance pad. They’ve taken something exceptionally difficult and, through TOOTBLANS and poorly located fastballs to Prince Fielder, made it even more so.
As Mariner fans our panic alarm doesn’t come with breakable glass, because we need that thing fairly often, and it’s expensive having to get new breakable glass installed every few weeks or so. We are quick to despair, and rightly so. Every Mariner gaffe, inexplicable failure, and head-desk moment is dropped in a memory bucket overflowing with similar experiences over the past fifteen years.
Feeling frustrated, angry even, is understandable. However, when stripped away from our emotional baggage does the Mariners’ recent poor success rate represent a shift back to "Same Ol’ Mariners" or is this simply a good team undergoing a bad set of games?
Runs scored/against is an extremely blunt tool, no one would say otherwise. However, as I stated earlier, the Mariners have gone 6-11 their past seventeen games. During that stretch they have actually outscored their opponents, 95-94. In this stretch their average margin of defeat is three runs, while their average margin of victory is close to six (5.67).
As this is not the kind of website that appropriates narrow defeat to lack of "want", "grit", or "mental toughness" I'll note that the Mariners 0-4 record in one run games during this stretch is not the kind of thing I expect to continue moving forward.
So, what am I doing here? Am I trying to convince you that every Mariner victory is the product of perfect skill and justice, while their defeats are nothing but an unholy alliance of randomness and bad luck? Of course not. Of those one run losses I referenced one was due to Steve Cishek throwing a fastball so fat it served as the animating bolt of lightning for Prince Fielder's corpse, and another was due to quite possibly the worst situational baserunning I have ever seen.
These words are not an attempt to whitewash the past, but to try and determine what it is telling us to expect in the near future. The Mariners offense, despite regularly running out lineups with Shawn O'Malley and Luis Sardinas in them, have actually been scoring more (5.58 Runs per game) the past few weeks than the season overall (5 runs/game). Clearly, the issue has been run prevention, and the Mariners will be in trouble if they continue to allow five and a half runs per game. However, while we give the most weight to the most recent results, we also hold them in context with the larger sample. In case you have forgotten, the 2016 season numbers still say the Mariners are pretty damn good at baseball.
Here are the Mariners' American League rankings in various categories:
The rankings generally reflect my observations of the team thus far this year: The Mariners have a great, albeit plodding and home run dependant, offense. Their rotation has the talent to dominate but lacks the consistency necessary to be elite. The bullpen, like so many bullpens, is a hit or miss proposition, with high variance, and the distinct possibility that significant turnover in arms and roles takes place prior to the season's final push.
These past seventeen games have been hard to watch, and they've also happened in concert with the Rangers catching fire. (Incidentally, Texas is 13-4 in one run games this year, take that as you will.) The Mariners will have to play better if they want to make it to the All-Star break in position to make a run at a playoff spot. But, in evaluating what to expect moving forward, we owe it to the team to consider the totality of the sixty-three games played just far, rather than just the past seventeen.
The Mariners are currently in a playoff spot, and plenty has gone wrong. Plenty more may still go wrong; the organization as a whole is still precariously thin almost at every position. But an honest examination of the season up to this point reveals a quality team, potentially one of the best in the American League. They face an uphill battle to reclaim the division lead, but we have plenty of reasons to expect a season long chase for poststeason baseball, even as past seasons tell us despair. That choice belongs to every one of you, individually. I'll choose to believe, because that's what this team has taught me to do.