Back when I was in college, lo these many moons ago, the website “Hot or Not” was big-time dorm entertainment. A picture would appear; you clicked a button to indicate how hot that person was, on a scale of 1-10. According to the Wikipedia entry:
The site was a technical solution to a disagreement the founders had one day over a passing woman's attractiveness.
Rome fell, and yet somehow here we still are.
Anyway, if the 2017 Mariners came up on the screen, I would not hesitate to rate them a 5. Are they hideous? At times. Beautiful? Rarely. Mostly, what they are is frustratingly, maddeningly, average, as borne out by their near-pathological inability to float too far from the safe haven of .500. For as much there is about the bunched-up nature of the AL Wild Card race, the Mariners have somehow managed to become the most boring team in the thick of things.
The Yankees have basically gotten into Roald Dahl’s Great Glass Elevator and are flying away with the first Wild Card spot. They’re only four games back of Boston, but it doesn’t matter; one of those teams will almost certainly hold the first WC. That leaves everyone else to scrap over the second slot. But some teams are doing a better job of making the scrap interesting.
Minnesota, after years of playing dismal baseball, has unexpectedly turned a corner much sooner than anticipated. Byron Buxton is playing like the superstar he was supposed to be, and Jorge Polanco, after scuffling hard in July, has come out of nowhere with a wRC+ of 201 over the past month. Minnesota’s pitching staff continues to sit right in the middle of the pack, but in a year where starters’ arms are flying off like Poochie returning to his home planet, mediocre pitching translates to star pitching.
There might not be a hotter team in baseball than the Orioles over the past week, a fact that the Mariners are taking squarely on the chin. From the nadir of a less-than-2% chance of grabbing a WC spot, Baltimore has put themselves back in the conversation, largely by taking the Mariners to the cleaners over this series. No team has hit better for average than Baltimore over the last 30 days; they’re posting baseball’s best team wRC+ at 128. Sure, their pitching is a mess, but they’ve actually been less terrible by FIP than Texas, Seattle, and Kansas City over the past month. Add that to their stellar offense, and it feels like even Ubaldo Jimenez can’t slow this team down.
Other teams aren’t doing quite so well on the field, but are allowing their fans to disengage from the team and start planning their fantasy football drafts (take Adam Thielen, thank me later). After making a little bit of noise, the Rays are slinking back to their essential Rays-ness, like that super-annoying dog you have to walk past who barks very loudly for a minute and then goes away. Back in mid-July, Fangraphs had the Rays with about a 35% chance of earning a Wild Card berth. That number has since fallen off pretty hard, although I’m not sure if any Rays fans noticed.
Kansas City is also failing, although doing so in spectacular fashion. After closing out July with a strong series that saw their playoff odds skyrocket to 60% on Fangraphs, Ned Yost and Co. went all Scooby-Doo-trapdoor on the fanbase, as the Royals began a stunning swandive into a swirling vortex of fart noises. Their playoff odds currently sit at 13.7%. They didn’t score a run in 45 innings. Seemingly overnight, they transformed from a team with a genuine shot at the second Wild Card spot into a team that is the embodiment of Homer falling down the cliff (yeah okay I’m watching the Simpsons in the background, wanna fight about it?). It’s gut wrenching and glorious. It’s horrible, but it’s certainly not boring.
Which brings me to the Mariners. Aside from the utterly catastrophic first inning meltdown in New York, the Mariners have been playing some pretty meh baseball over the past...I don’t know, week? Two weeks? Three? I can’t remember the last win that really got me pumped up. It was fun to see Yonder Alonso yank one off new-phone-Arol-dis to give the Mariners an edge, although it would have been more fun to see the Mariners score more runs off escaped Chuck E. Cheese animatron C.C. Sabathia. The closest they got to a true tailspin was being swept by the Angels over Edgar weekend, which was the equivalent of going to your grandparents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary drunk, burping Taco Bell in everyone’s faces, and winding up face-first in the cake. Looking at the rat king of lines in that graph, it can be hard to see the Mariners’ little teal one, bobbing right about .500. The Mariners aren’t on a hot streak, and they aren’t falling off a cliff. They’re just...there. Every opportunity they’ve had to steam ahead in the race, they’ve declined (“oh no, I couldn’t possibly have this momentum, I’m stuffed to the gills with gas station sandwiches”). And eventually, these things will catch up with them. They’ve been leapfrogged by the Angels, and now the Orioles, two teams that are getting hot down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Mariners plug along, the C students of the American League, faces you’ll forget the instant you click past.