The Mariners just survived a terrifying week of baseball. Against two of the very best teams in the game, Seattle went 3-4, with a nice midnight 2,000 mile flight in the middle. That they could have easily gone 6-1 in that stretch speaks in equal parts to their talent, and their continued imperfections.
This week showed, again, that the Mariners are capable of being the best baseball team Seattle has seen in well over a decade, and also showcased many of their shortcomings. Gone are the May fantasies that Jerry Dipoto had somehow assembled one of the very best teams in baseball. The Mariners are now where they always are: forlorn outsiders, forever looking in with envy upon October’s bounty.
However, the team’s schedule, after two months playing against teams with a combined winning percentage of 53.2%, is finally breaking. Over the rest of August only six of the remaining twenty-six games are against teams above .500. The team going four or five games over .500 in this stretch to put themselves in position for a September run at a Wild Card is a very reasonable prospect.
As the opposition is weakening, the Mariners are actually growing stronger. Felix Hernandez is back in the rotation, Taijuan Walker returns tomorrow. Nick Vincent is close to returning, and the final three outs of games now rest in the fire and blood-dealing hands of Edwin Diaz. Guillermo Heredia has arrived, and supplied the team with a desperately needed second competent defensive outfielder. As Chris Iannetta has faded, Mike Zunino has re-emerged, not only as the catcher of the future, but potentially the catcher of right now. In a season filled with good and bad it's hard to overpraise the careful, deliberate way the franchise has allowed Zunino to reclaim something of his career.
The Mariners of April and May, the ones that made some of us abandon cynicism, cry "go biz!", and annoy so many with our optimism, are long gone. But there is a chance, a good chance that the Mariners of June and July, the ones that brought back all the familiar feelings, are gone as well. The Mariners playoff odds are still between 20-25%, and if you haven’t read it already, give this Fanpost a look, for an idea how the next two months could play out.
Baseball is a game that doesn’t lend itself well to "hype". The games are too regular, the action to sporadic, the beauty of the game often too subtle. Nonetheless I’m embedding a hype video below (all credit to Mike Bar at @SeahawkScout), because it’s Friday, and the Mariners are playing a terrible team for the next three days, and because I choose to believe they have one last run in them.
Today marks the beginning of the third, and final act of the 2016 Mariners. Traditionally, this is the part of the story that marks the hero overcoming the trials and torments experienced in the second act. The Mariners aren’t that story, they are prisoners to reality, just like the rest of us. But tonight it’s going to be 80 degrees, it’s Friday, the stadium will be packed, Ken Griffey Jr is in the house, and nearly 40,000 fans will mark the beginning of the end of whatever this year will be, together, with Felix on the hill.