As the All Star break comes to a close, the Mariners find themselves teetering on a precipice - three months of good vibes came to a grinding halt in the last week and a half, and though they’ve created a decent cushion for themselves there are no guarantees in baseball (except the contracts, those are sweet). Meanwhile, we, the fans, can do nothing but watch from afar and worry. Goodness are there so many things to worry about.
The offense the past few weeks has harked back to the completely punchless lineups that we were subjected to in the early 2010s. In July, just five Mariner hitters have posted a wRC+ over 100. One of them is Christian Bergman. Another is Chris Herrmann. Two others are Nelson Cruz and Mitch Haniger, though their respective numbers of 104 and 116 aren’t quite what you want to see from the middle of the order. Denard Span’s mark of 166 is a very welcome sight, but unfortunately, no one else except Kyle Seager is over 80. Ryon Healy, Ben Gamel, and Guillermo Heredia have all struggled immensely over the month, although each have provided either big hits or solid games through the past week.
The M’s desperately need Robinson Canó back, and that day is coming sooner than one might think. But if the bats don’t turn around soon, they could find themselves in some dire straits upon Robi’s return.
Missing the Ride
My worries don’t so much come from a fear of the Mariners’ collapsing, it’s a fear of falling into the same trap I always do. When things in my life are going well, whether it be sports or otherwise, I have a tendency to take them for granted.
Andy Bernard has that famous line about wanting to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them. This, as much as it pains me to say that I relate to the Nard Dog, always strikes a chord with me. During this season, I have joined Lookout Landing, secured my first full-time job, and moved out of my dad’s basement. All signs point to the good old days starting right about now for me, and the Mariners’ first half only reinforced that notion.
My biggest worry about the second half is that I’ll somehow fail to appreciate it all. Like with my most cherished memories from childhood, or the stupidest, most indelible things from my college years, I don’t want to only realize their importance once they’ve passed by. Whatever visceral Mariner moments happen down the stretch could easily be forgotten, or at least overshadowed, if the team fails to make the playoffs. While that is probably the largest worry that all my other worries fall under, I have a deep fear that the outcome might take away from the process. No matter what the Mariners are doing in October, I never want to forget what they did from March through early-July of 2018.
Can’t carry a radio to two different graves
[Shameless self-promotion alert] The other day, I wrote a Short Relief in which I meditated on going to a baseball game with my grandfather. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it would be the last game I would ever attend with him, the last game he would ever attend. It was the Night Court game, at the end of a 2014 season where the team played well, but not well enough to finish higher than third in the AL West, missing a Wild Card spot by inches. My grandfather died recently, without ever seeing the Mariners advance further in the playoffs than their miraculous 1995 run. I’m worried my dad, the person who taught me how to swing a bat and took me to games back in the Kingdome and fed my single-minded obsession with Edgar Martinez with baseball cards and autograph appearances, will also be denied the chance to see the team he’s loved his whole life (and beyond, back to the Seattle Rainiers days) make some noise in the playoffs. Just thinking about the heartbreak of coming so close again, as they did in 2014, and again in 2016, and being beat out last-minute by an AL West rival, or mowed down by a surging second-half team, is enough to blur my vision with salty pinpricks. I know the universe isn’t concerned with our happiness. I know sports aren’t fair. I know rooting for playoffs alone is an almost guaranteed poor return on one’s sport fandom investment. But it is our damn turn.
Breaking up the Cluster
It’s not my nature to worry about things like this. I am stressed by the prospect of meeting a group of new people or the idea that my septuagenarian father is enraged about my inability to be free to hang out before his 4 year-old goes to bed at 7:00 PM. The Mariners stress me out in the moment, but not on a grand scale. That is made easier because they’re pretty good. I’d like that to be true, but it also happens to be true. They’re average to above-average at most positions, with an average rotation and an anti-matter gun at the end of their bullpen. The M’s win by maintaining pressure all game and stringing together hits, and when they struggle to hit it looks bad.
As Connor mentioned, recently the M’s offense has been brutal. Most notably, Ryon Healy and Guillermo Heredia have looked overmatched. Healy has the Zunino style that renders his numbers unappealing when he’s not mashing homers, but his numbers don’t add up across the board. He doesn’t walk, and while he doesn’t strike out especially frequently compared to the rest of the league, his lack of BBs puts a massive burden on the quality of his contact. With 18 homers through 315 PAs and just a 96 wRC+, Healy is dipping his toe into Rougned Odor territory. The key, however, is Ryon keep hitting it hard. His xwOBA of .348 and xBA of .272 suggest better days are ahead, but at a certain point a free-swinger like Ryon may be liable to lose confidence, if he hasn’t already. It may be too late for Healy to salvage his overall numbers for this year, but Seattle needs him to rebound to stabilize their offense in the second half.
As for Guillermo, well, he may simply not be a full-time player, as the Mariners long feared, much to the chagrin of their online community, myself included. Guillermo still hasn’t managed to translate his speed into base-stealing acumen and as a result is a liability when he’s not hitting. Hitting better doesn’t seem unthinkable, but whereas the Mariners spent much of 2018 running out a lineup that looked threatening 1-thru-9, their hitting w/RISP numbers have suffered of late due to an exposed underbelly that hasn’t held up their end of the bargain. Hold it up, guys. Or else it will be a true squandering of a remarkable start.
For my Nana, my grandmother on my dad’s side, worrying was one of her primary character traits. She grew up in Sudan, and then Egypt, and worried about about the giant boa constrictor they found in the well; about the safety of her pet mongoose; about moving to America. My own daily worries are infinitely smaller, my baseball worries especially so, but they still linger, equal parts rational and wildly irrational.
I worry for the families who see this season as the last chance for a loved one to experience the absurdist joy that only sports success can bring.
I worry that Jean Segura will be disappointed in us. In the team, in the fans, in our city. I dread the way his shoulders will slump after the final out of Game 162, should there be no more to follow.
I worry this will be Nelson Cruz’s final Mariner season.
I worry about my inability to manage the helplessness, should the team collapse. I worry about crying in a bar and feeling foolish.
I worry that we’ll look back at the joyful things we wrote in the first half and find that the second half has imbued them all with shameful melancholy.
I worry their offense won’t score ever again.
I worry about the A’s.
I worry that my sister’s Cardinal-fan boyfriend will deride the team when he visits in August, and I’ll be forced to glower at him during all future family gatherings.
I worry, constantly, that someone on the team will get hurt.
I worry one game won’t be enough.
I worry about how to even begin to write about the Mariners in the playoffs.
“‘Soon the sun will set’--is that prophecy? No, it’s merely an assertion of faith in the consistency of events. The children of the world are consistent too--so I say they will soak up everything you can offer, take your job away from you, and then denounce you as a decrepit wreck. Finally, they’ll ignore you entirely. It’s your own fault.”
I don’t need to give you my specific fears. We’ve all lived my specific fears these last 17 years. You Mariner fans need no instruction in the myriad ways to fail and disappoint; you are bathed in them from the moment of your grassy diamond birth. The James Paxton twinge migrates from side to elbow; far from revitalizing the club, no one is quite comfortable with their revised role upon Robinson Canó’s return and the offense endures a miserable two week slump at the worst possible moment; those aren’t really any different than seasons past. What I fear most is that what I deny most is true in major league baseball: superstition is real; curses are real; some franchises are doomed to wander the earth in barrenness for generations, while their fans kindle the fires of hope uselessly season after season.
“I doubt if a single completely accurate account of the Flame Deluge exists anywhere. Once it started, it was apparently too immense for any one person to see the whole picture.”
I am, by nature, a peacemaker. I like people to feel welcome and included. I also insist that people are given credit for their contributions. It’s an almost an impulsive thing for me. When I played in bands, I insisted on giving shoutouts to every other band on the bill, the venue, the promoter, the sound person, some random dude that helped cart my giant bass amp up some stairs, and on and on. I try to always remember who came up with each particularly good idea at work, or on Lookout Landing, both as a commentator and as a staff writer. When people are not properly credited/thanked/attributed, it deeply bothers me. Like, “whoa, someone has been MORTALLY WRONGED HERE and I need to fix it!”
This is all to say that my biggest worry about the second half of the Mariners season, aside from an epic meltdown where they just completely fall out of contention, has to do with Robinson Canó. Not about when and where he’ll play when he returns from his suspension, because that will sort itself out. No, I’m worried about the big ol’ IF AND WHEN the Mariners make the playoffs (screaming face emoji) and it’s (presumably) due in no small part to the play of Canó down the stretch, how will the team handle the literally unprecedented situation of a team’s veteran star not getting to play in the playoffs due to a PED suspension?
I know, it’s so absurd and such a “Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there” situation because yeah, there are a boatload of “ifs” in that scenario. But, I just can’t get it out of my head. It’s heartbreaking to think about how Canó would have to sit out the playoffs, given how his decision to play in Seattle starting in 2015 signaled the very beginning of a gradual sea-change in the direction of the franchise. Without Canó, there’s no Crúz signing. Segura doesn’t get to play with his dear friend and mentor. You can make the argument that the steady stream of quality players the team has signed and traded for since 2015 do not fall in quite the same line they have and that the quality of the team’s leadership and chemistry (ducks rotten fruit from pro-SABR/anti-narrative Mariners fans) are not nearly on the level they are now. Canó helped build that, and the team’s other leaders like Cruz, Segura, and Félix stepped up in his absence.
I desperately want the Mariners in the playoffs. I’m terrified of it, especially a Wild Card one-game playoff, but I still want it. It’s also okay if they miss the playoffs, as long as it’s close. I’m prepared for that. My predictions for the team at the beginning of the season were the least optimistic of anyone on staff. This is literally all gravy for me at this point. But, now that the prospect of the postseason is near, of course I want it. Do I still want it if an major contributor doesn’t get to participate. Yes, of course. It will bother my inner need to make everyone feel included and appreciated, but that’s life, isn’t it? It’s way, WAY out of my control. It’s been so long since the Mariners have had postseason fun that there is an entire stadium full of people that I wish could be a part of it. So, if it happens, let’s all resolve to put worry and differences aside and enjoy the ever-living hell out of it on the behalf of all who won’t get to experience it as either part of the team, part of the crowd, or part of this realm of existence. Go Mariners.