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2021 isn’t the Mariners’ year, but they’re making it theirs

(And it’s a little scary. But in a fun way. Mostly.)

Tampa Bay Rays v Seattle Mariners
Walk. Off. Grand. Slam.
Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

This was not supposed to be the Seattle Mariners’ year. As someone who struggles with the unknown, I appreciated that, even before the season began, it seemed practically a foregone conclusion that they wouldn’t be all that great. And that was okay! We’d yet again shifted that window of contention to accommodate for injuries and youngsters and ownership’s inability to pay for talent, and were back in a place of comfort for Mariners fans: grasping at morsels of competency, maybe next year-ing before the calendar had flipped to April.

Instead it’s August 24, and the Mariners are fresh off another stunning, late-inning comeback against division rivals, three games back from the Wild Card, and just two games back of the A’s. Is that rah rah music I hear?

Well, not quite. In years past, when the M’s had flirted with late-summer contention there had been a different feel to the team. They were shoving, grinding it out, pushing forward on the shoulders of some tremendous talents. This season, watching the Mariners feels like witnessing a train careening off the tracks and down a mountain. The only question is whether the momentum will be enough to propel them to the crest of the next summit.

Seattle is the most clutch team in baseball. I wrote about it, Jake wrote about it, Justin Choi at FanGraphs wrote about it. It’s no surprise, if you’ve watched them play at all this season, but it is a drastic shift in our collective fandom. Normally it feels unlucky to root for them; often, they’ve felt cursed. But this year, without warning or permission, Ty France plucked a four-lead clover from the cusp of the outfield grass.

And then J.P. Crawford did the same. And Dylan Moore found one while stretching in the outfield, and Marco unearthed one in foul territory and Jake Fraley found an entire orchard of them in left field.

It must be infuriating to play this baseball team of ours. Houston crushed them 27-4 in the first two games of the weekend series, but they still came away with the win and set themselves just half a game back from where they’d started. Their one-run game win percentage is precipitously close to the franchise record from 2001, and they have the second-highest wRC+ with runners in scoring position. I’m not saying they’re a Team of Destiny, but they are going to roll Yahtzee 17 times, take you out for a drink as a consolation prize, and find $100 in the parking lot.

Obviously a lot of this luck and clutchiness is predicated on talent, but unlike previous years that talent isn’t concentrated in a handful of make-or-break individuals. It’s sprinkled like the first snow of the season across everyone, and each player has had a chance to play hero this year. They don’t have the gimmicks of well-publicized team celebrations (home run blazer, anyone?), but as a team they’re rootable in a way that feels borderline apocalyptic.

The challenge with cheering for a team as precipitously fortunate as the 2021 M’s is that it adds pressure to an already heightened portion of the season. It’s quite a few tablespoons shy of a rational cup, but I can’t shake the sentiment that they have to capitalize on this season. This lethal combo of luck and high-leverage performance may not surface again for decades, if that, and the Mariners need all the intangibles they can cobble together to finally make their return to playoffs. If not now, when?