Last night, riding high on an improbable Orioles victory, I messaged nearly everyone I know to see if they wanted to come to the game today. Most were already going, a few had “other commitments,” and then there was Book Club. This spectacular septet of mid-to-late-20s Seattleites are reasonably Online, but not particularly fervent baseball fans.
“Can you TLDR what’s happening with the Mariners?” one asked. “I’ve been seeing so much Twitter buzz and have felt so lost lol”
So to the book clubbers, the casual fans, the non-fans tuning in for the good story, here’s your primer on the 2021 Seattle Mariners.
The M’s are currently tied with the Boston Red Sox for the second Wild Card spot, with the New York Yankees holding a two-game lead over the first slot and three games left in the regular season.
Basically, the Mariners control their own destiny now. If they win out they’re guaranteed a tiebreaker game 163 to determine the second Wild Card team. If they lose, it gets fuzzy. If the Red Sox or the Blue Jays (one game back of the M’s/Red Sox) also lose, it gets fuzzier.
If they make it to the Wild Card game, they will break a 20-year postseason-less streak. Yes, it is the longest current drought in major North American professional sports. No, we don’t need to dwell on it.
This was not how most people thought the season would go.
Who to watch for?
The nature of Chaos Ball is that anyone has the chance to step into the spotlight. But when Gold Glove shortstop J.P. Crawford, outfielder Mitch Haniger or first baseman Ty France are up to bat, you may want to zero in your focus.
Two names you’ve likely heard frequently - one for years, one more recently - are Kyle Seager and Jarred Kelenic. Seager, a franchise Mariner and 10-year veteran, could well be playing his final games in Seattle, while Kelenic (kell-nick) is a 22-year-old top prospect just through a scorching hot September.
Marco Gonzales starts Friday, Cinderella story Chris Flexen starts Saturday, and trade deadline acquisition Tyler Anderson closes out the regular season on Sunday.
The bullpen features an NSYNC and a half’s-worth of relievers, most of whom are nearly indistinguishable from each other, many of whom seemingly came out of nowhere, and all of whom have contributed to the fourth-best relief corps in baseball (6.9 fWAR, trailing the White Sox, Rays and Yankees). Scott Servais has been flexible in bullpen roles, but three key names to know are Drew Steckenrider, scoreless-inning-streaker Casey Sadler and erstwhile accountant Paul Sewald.
Lookout Landing runs a great off-season feature every year called the 40-in-40 series, where we write up each player on the 40-man roster prior to Spring Training. There are some great pieces in the 2021 edition, but perhaps most striking of all is how relatively few of those players remain (due to injury, poor performance, trades, etc.).
Chaos Ball, huh?
This particular brand of Mariners baseball - dubbed Chaos Ball by Kate Preusser after their walk-off walk to start the season - is characterized by a decent chunk of luck, cloaked in clutch performances and a rowdy run differential.
Same old Mariners?
Nah, baby. They’ve made a few close runs at the playoffs in recent years, but this is the latest they’ve been in true postseason position since 2001 and, most importantly, unlike past seasons, this is a window opening for a young, rebuilding team, as opposed to a window closing.