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What to watch for in the final 12 games of the Mariners season

The Mariners don’t have shiny prospect call-ups to cherish, so enjoying the final two weeks of baseball will have to come from elsewhere.

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MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Following Daniel Vogelbach’s heroism last night (more on that later today from Tim in addition to Isabelle’s recap last night), the Mariners are 7.0 GB of the Athletics for the WC2 spot and 11.0 GB of the Astros in the AL West with 12 games remaining. The playoffs, barring something like a 2-10 finish from Oakland, are not in the cards. Again. Even for a team likely to win 90 games at this point. It’s frustrating in many ways, but I am always reminded of the most frustrating thing around this time: After the final out on September 30th, the lights will flick off at Safeco Field, the fans will stream out in melancholy, perhaps with a small candle held in their heart at seeing Seattle finish their season with a win.

It’s difficult to invest your spirit fully now, as the summer draws to a close, rooting for a barely-living team with few young players to project forward. What is left to enjoy is small, historic, and fading, but it exists. This is my list of what I’ll be watching for in the season’s final two weeks.

1. Edwin Díaz chases the saves record

Single-season saves leaderboard.
Baseball Reference

The issue with saves is that they are a silly stat. Like RBI and W/L record, they are neither predictive of future achievement nor skilled at isolating an individual player’s contribution. But what they do, at least for now, is matter to the players, and Edwin’s brilliance spans both traditional and modern statistical metrics. Edwin enters Tuesday with 56 saves, in sole possession of 3rd place on the leaderboards. He trails 1990 Bobby Thigpen (57) and 2008 Francisco Rodriguez (62). To tie the record the Mariners would need to, at minimum, WIN six more games. With seven remaining matchups against the bedraggled Rangers there are wins to be had, but it will be a longshot. At worst, we will have the solace of knowing we’ve seen the most dominant relief season in Mariners history, and one of the greatest closers in the history of baseball.

2. The (Possible) Conclusion of Nelson Cruz’s Mariners Career

Scott Servais says he wants him back. Jerry Dipoto insists he wants him back. We here at LL want him back. The Mariners need him back. Nelson Cruz is mum on the topic, but just launched a bunch of Seattle-themed merchandise:

Read the tarot any way you please, but the best fit for Cruz remains in Seattle. Still, the 38-year-old with the Boomstick is a free agent at the end of the year and may test the market, or simply decide he wants a better shot at a playoff run. If these last two weeks are Cruz’s last in Northwest Teal, he will finish his Mariners career as one of the greatest hitters in the organization’s history. The team with a compass rose as their sigil has been dragged to contention for three straight years now by their Dominican Atlas.

If this is his Seattle swan song, it should be a celebration, and a coronation of Mariners Hall of Fame status. In the 10 years following Edgar Martinez’s retirement after 2004, the Mariners’ DH’s combined for 6396 PAs with a .235/.307/.364 line, an 83 wRC+(!), and 160 homers. Nelson Cruz’s 162 HRs in his four years in Seattle puts him at 6th on Seattle’s all-time leaderboard, trailing only Griffey, Edgar, Buhner, A-Rod, and his best friend Kyle Seager. His wRC+ of 149 as a Mariner makes him literally the best hitter in Mariners history.

Screw the five-year rule. The man is a legend. Enjoy him now while you still can, and hope he’s back next year.

3. Maybe, MAYBE just a little more Dan Vogelbach

It’s incredible that two of the most memorable moments of the season will be from a guy who may not crack 100 PAs this year. Daniel Vogelbach’s pinch-hit grand slam last night delivered a sublime surrender cobra reaction to Astros fans everywhere. It pairs nicely with his cosmic devastation of an Emilio Pagan pitch earlier this year that led to property damage in the Holy Hell He Hit It Here Café. It’s anybody’s guess where Vogelbach is next year. At this point it seems like no amount of minor-league mashing will earn Vogelbach extended reps with Seattle at 1st base, even as Ryon Healy continues to laser 105-mph one-hoppers at the shortstop. But unless Seattle spends big or changes tack it seems likely both players remain next season, with Vogey in limbo unless Nelson Cruz departs and opens the DH role.

Opinions remain mixed on the Large Adult Son, but it’s incontrovertible that he’s yet to be afforded a real shot to prove himself. With nothing more to lose this year, it’d be nice to see Vogelbach string together several starts and show what he can or cannot do a bit more. He’s still the youngest Mariners position player and the closest thing this side of Arkansas to a top prospect. Let’s see him mash.

4. Sporcle Practice

Recently, Matthew Roberson wrote a piece for us on the most forgettable Mariners of the past decade. It made me laugh, and you should read it, because Matthew is funny and smart, but it’s also a reminder that several of the players on the Mariners’ current roster are unlikely to resurface in Seattle. Adam Warren, Zach Duke, Cameron Maybin, Mike Morin, Gordon Beckham, and Andrew Romine are all free agents after this season. Christian Bergman assuredly will not be offered a deal in arbitration. Kristopher Negrón appeared out of the ether and will almost certainly evaporate again at midnight on September 31st. If you are a purist, remember these names.

5. Mitch Haniger’s continued existence

Yeah I mean this one began mostly for me but I think we’re all pretty high on this one. One of the top 10 position players in the American League and the only player who seemingly remained locked in down the stretch. There are no records to be set for Mitch - only the pleasant reminder that if greatness happens in a forest and there are no playoffs in that forest, we still appreciate it.