The date is Friday, August 20th, 2021, and the Seattle Mariners are Still In It™. I didn’t think they would be, every major outlet I know if didn’t think they would be, hell the organization itself downplayed expectations repeatedly despite emphatic statements by Marco Gonzales and J.P. Crawford. The naysayers are likely correct ultimately, as Seattle sits 66-56, heading into the lion’s den that is Minute Maid Park for three games with the Houston Astros. They are 3 GB of Oakland Athletics for the second Wild Card spot, 5.5 GB of Houston for the AL West. The most sanguine major system is that of FiveThirtyEight, giving Seattle just a 10% shot at the playoffs. Meanwhile, Baseball Reference gives them a 5.4% chance of postseason ball, while FanGraphs offers just 3.9%, and PECOTA from Baseball Prospectus augurs 3.7% odds. Fortunately or frighteningly, Seattle’s remaining schedule is a gauntlet crafted to give the M’s every opportunity to make up ground directly, or be buried for good.
The Mariners play 21 of their 40 remaining games against teams they can catch and overtake for a playoff spot. Nine against Houston (six in Texas, three at home), starting tonight. Nine against Oakland (six in California, three at home). They also host the scuffling Boston Red Sox for three in mid-September, their final regular season home games with a non-AL West opponent. Boston has fallen out of playoff position, half a game back of the A’s and 1.5 GB of the surging Yankees for the first Wild Card spot, which Seattle is four games back of at the moment. Seattle sadly can’t get back those winnable games against the Bronx Bombers, but they can take the most direct path to a playoff spot - charting a course directly through the teams they need to overcome.
The challenge here, of course, is that the Mariners are by almost any conceivable metric, worse than Houston, Oakland, and Boston. Frankly, they’re probably worse than Toronto, who sits just a game and a half further back than the M’s thanks to Seattle’s taking of their season series 4-2. But they are in striking distance, playing with house money (figuratively of course, not John Stanton’s house money), in a near-replica circumstance of their surprising 2018 club at this stage, yet with a youth-led core and hope for better days in years to come in lieu of the dying grasps of a core under-supported and collapsing. That club was 70-52 at this stage, 2.5 games out of the Wild Card and 4.5 games behind Houston for the division. They had just 13 games against the A’s and Astros, plus three more with the Yankees, and they were both unable to gain ground and forced to watch impotently as all three clubs racked up victories against lesser opponents in a less-balanced American League.
This time, Seattle’s schedule offers a glimmer of a chance. Seattle’s 19 other games still to come are against beatable clubs. Seven with the miserable Kansas City Royals (52-68), six with the abysmal Arizona Diamondbacks (41-81), and, of course, six in the season’s final week and a half with the trick-or-treat Los Angeles Angels (62-61). The A’s, meanwhile, face the division-leading Giants, the Yankees, the Blue Jays, the White Sox, and Houston for 19 of their remaining tilts, along with the aforementioned nine with Seattle. They’re privy to nine against Detroit, Texas, and Kansas City respectively, as well as three with Anaheim, but it’s rougher sailing on paper than the M’s face. Houston sees a slightly lighter slate, with 13 against TEX, KCR, and ARI, but also faces both the San Diego Padres and the division-leading Tampa Bay Rays, in addition to a healthy heaping of Oakland and LAA. The path for Seattle is through, and it is deeply unlikely, but the rays of light peeking through have not been stifled entirely.
What are hopefully 40 more games of stress, intensity, and immense consequence begin tonight. I can’t wait.