Well, this is it. This is the final moment to get your breath back before we take the three month plunge. This is your final morning to settle into what's before you between now and early October. In years past, the All Star Break has felt like something of a much needed break from the battering of yet another year of wheels sputtering in mud too deep to escape. This season, things have changed, somewhat. The Mariners start the "second half" of the season one game better off than they began the year. Yes, after eighty-some-odd games, the M's have managed to be one game better than the day the season began. This sounds sort of, well, lackluster. Let me remind you of something that four days could have helped you forget:
This is 14th time in Mariners' 40-year history they've been over .500 at All-Star break, second time in past six years.— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) July 10, 2016
Folks, I don't have to tell you that the way we got here was nothing short of an alien experience. Eight games into the season, there were some willing to call the season off, only to then watch the M's absolutely destroy worlds for a month, eventually settling into a comfortable place ten games over five-hundred, the division in hand, and given the best odds in the AL to make the playoffs. We know what happened then: injury, injury, one-run loss, injury, injury, one-run loss, etc. Things got dark, but not in the usually numb-by-mid-June way. No, no. The Mariners found a totally different way to shatter our wildest dreams. A few weeks ago things looked bleak. Damn bleak.
Yet, here we sit. One game better than the day we started. The last time it happened, we remember how it ended. But this is not 2014. This is not a team praying for Endy Chavez to just not die, for Logan Morrison and Austin Jackson to be major contributors; there's no 200 AB's to Justin Smoak and Stefen Romero. James Jones isn't starting in center field. No, this team is an entirely different monster that has seventy-three games left to swallow the American League alive.
This is the 4th best offense in all of MLB, tied with the World Beating Chicago Cubs in wRC+. They've hit 132 balls over the fence. The team slugs .444 and boasts a wOBA of .331. It is a no-doubt elite offense led by one of the most feared 3-4-5 combos in all of the game. As a Mariners fan It's an uncomfortable feeling believing, with good reason, that the team is capable of pumping out 5.5 runs on any given night. Despite the potent offense, the team isn't exactly a one-trick pony, either.
While suffering through the sort of injury slate that would have doomed any M's team of past memory, losing 80% of the starting rotation to injury, the M's have managed to keep their heads above water thanks to the amazing resurgence of James Paxton and the devil magic of Wade LeBlanc. As a staff, the Mariners are dead middle of the MLB in FIP at 4.25. They have almost an entire bullpen on the DL. When weighed in relation to their runs/game, it makes sense that the M's boast the best run differential in the AL West, and the fourth-best in the entire AL.
What's more, the M's are currently five games below their Pythag Expected Wins (which has Seattle at 50-39), the Rangers, of course are seven games over theirs (47-43). That once-impossible mountain which saw the M's drop at one point 11.5 games back of Texas has slipped to a more manageable 8.5 games. In seventy-three games, it's a big ask, but Texas is falling and fast with a decimated rotation and a streak of luck that was bound to run dry. I'm sure you're well aware of the disparity between the teams in relation to their record in one-run games but, in case your unaware, the Rangers are essentially Ash Ketchum to the M's Team Rocket in tight affairs. Ash, that lucky bastard.
For most, the more relevant data is the Wild Card Standings. As things sit, the M's find themselves five games back of a wild card spot, with four teams between them and a place in the October Dance. With two and a half months of ball left to play, and a resurgent Houston, it's hard to say which is a more likely way for the M's to make the post season for the first time since 2001, but what's most important is that it is all there to play for. It's all before them. You don't have to dream up some fantastical situation that sees the Mariners in the postseason. No, if anything, it numerically kinda makes sense. This is a strong team that has suffered it's way through to a playoff conversation.
It's mid-July and you sure as hell should be watching scoreboards. The M's are getting healthy, hopefully nearing a turn of fortune unlike the horrible torments of June, and are a hot two-week stretch away from being in charge of a playoff bid. It's a scenario we're unfamiliar with, I get that it doesn't maybe make sense. This team is good, likely the best team this franchise has seen, on talent, since 2003. In a week, their King returns. Maybe it's time to let it ride. Hit on sixteen. Throw down for snake eyes. But first, take this moment, this pause, to catch your breath.
They are coming.