The 2017 Mariners are one of the strangest teams I have ever followed. In watching an individual game, they can be frustrating, but more often than not their flaws are glaring.
“Oh, look, Chris Heston is starting. Tuffy Gosewisch is starting. Taylor Motter is starting at 1B multiple games in a row. Neat.”
These are not mysterious cracks. They are gaping fissures that cartographers would mark with detail and caution. The wondrous strengths of the team have been obvious too. Three All-Stars in the infield, three breakout rookie outfielders, a Boomstick, and some decent performances from established veterans. An explosive offense that is slowly healing the wounds of 2010-2013, where a two-run deficit was a death sentence. Almost every game this season has felt winnable into the final innings, and yet the season as a whole adds up to something maddening. The inconsistency teases a playoff caliber team, then crashes in a pile of soggy arms and bloated bullpen HR/FB rates. Improvements from the bullpen have propelled the Mariners back into the ever amorphous “playoff hunt,” however.
Best MLB records since May 28th:— Gary Hill (@GaryHillJr) August 2, 2017
1. Dodgers 45-11
2. Astros 35-21
3. Royals 34-23
4. Mariners 34-24
Today they play one game against Texas before the most important series of the season: four games in Kansas City against the Royals. With two months of baseball left, any team is still largely in control of their own destiny, but the Mariners season will be altered dramatically within the next five days.
Playoffs are still a long shot for the Mariners, but their odds have returned from a month-long hiatus to around their preseason levels, according to Fangraphs. With the Astros blowing the division out of the water, Seattle is left with one path to the playoffs, and it goes through Kansas City. Fangraphs actually projects the 55-53 Mariners to perform slightly better than the Royals over the final two months, but anticipates the 1.5 game lead the 55-50 Kansas City has built up already to be just enough to sneak in over Seattle and the 55-53 Rays. Playoff odds from all systems see the race staying just as tight as it is now.
What that bears out to in practice is an incredibly slim margin for error.
Projected End of Year Wins
The Mariners had a chance to generate daylight between themselves and the teams ahead of them when the Royals and Athletics came to town before the All-Star Break. Instead, their fissures swallowed them up. This week, and over the next two weeks, facing the Royals four times and the Rays for three, they have a final chance, in what once again is the “most important stretch of the season.” Maybe what has been so frustrating about this team is that because of how mediocre the entire American League has been, every game has felt important. There has been no respite from the team’s potential, nor its inability to fully realize that potential. After losing 11 of 16 in the final two weeks of August last year, the Mariners seemed well and truly sunk. Their September resurgence was as unexpected as it was delightful.
This year a playoff run would also be unlikely, but the parameters of the team are well understood. Perhaps that is not the cure to the nerves I feel watching this team every night, but it’s all I’ve got. I don’t expect the Mariners to be a playoff team this year, but so long as they keep giving me opportunities my heart and mind cannot help it. I would say we are now officially entering scoreboard watching season, but in truth this year that began in April. Happy nail-biting.