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Mariners thumb nose at projections, clinch winning record

ZiPS, PECOTA, Steamer, all have crumbled before Chaos Ball

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re coming here from a jubilant headline and the news that the Mariners have secured a winning season expecting some ground in the Wild Card race, I’m sorry to say that you’ll be disappointed after this next sentence. With the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Yankees all pulling out wins, everything that was out of Seattle’s control broke the wrong way. Not that this came as a huge shock, though. After all, even with a nice series against the Royals, the repeated rake-stepping of the last homestand would have put Sideshow Bob to shame. After last Wednesday, playoffs were a pipe dream at best.

Despite everything, there’s still one avenue where these Mariners are in full control of their destiny, and that kicked off last night with a four-game series against a direct division rival. Last night, Tyler Anderson led the charge to pull Seattle within one game of the A’s, but tonight’s contest got off on the wrong foot: Paul Blackburn worked around a two-out double from Kyle Seager to keep the M’s off the board in the first, and then after two quick outs from Marco Gonzales, a borderline 2-2 pitch to Matt Olson fell in favor of Oakland, and one hanging curve later, the A’s had an early lead. Marco rebounded to strike out Matt Chapman, putting to bed any worries that he would unravel early.

Unfortunately, after Jarred Kelenic led off the top of the second with a strikeout in a seven-pitch at-bat, that funny feeling of a sleepy 2-0 loss started to creep in. Jake Bauers getting grazed on the foot and Tom Murphy following that with a hard-hit single into right field pushed it away for a while, but Jake Fraley pounding a first-pitch changeup right to Olson for a forceout had it rekindled, especially with a light-hitting Dylan Moore due up next. He watched a sinker and a cutter for a ball and strike and fouled off a tough low curveball, and Fraley was able to bait a few throws to first out of Blackburn. After the third one, though, the recently dormant Chaos Ball awoke with a vengeance.

Jake Bauers- yes, Jake Bauers! - has done everything possible to worm himself into my heart. He’s undeniably been better since the calendar flipped to August, and who didn’t love his go-ahead two-run single in this very ballpark a few weeks back, or the splash shot he hit in KC - his first homer in three months - just two days ago? This savvy bit of baserunning - which was arguably the best awareness on the basepaths a Mariner has shown all year - was just the cherry on top. Although they wouldn’t get any more then, Marco shut down the A’s in order in the bottom of the inning, and the good vibes were flowing all the way up to Jarred ripping a leadoff triple in the top of the fourth. Going into tonight, the Mariners were somehow the only team in MLB to not reach double digits in triples, and JK’s still wasn’t enough to get over that hump. Back-to-back strikeouts from Bauers and Murphy didn’t help, either, and although Fraley worked a walk like he has so often this year, it once again came down to Dylan Moore not to waste an opportunity.

I’m happy to say that only was it not wasted, but that with one swing of the bat, DMo brought the Mariners to double-digit triples.

Between Mark Canha whiffing on a ball that had a decent chance at being caught, two more runs scoring, and another day of Dylan Moore climbing out of a season-long slump, this whole sequence was absolutely delicious. J.P. Crawford brought DMo home with a single, and from then on, the game went to cruise control. So Marco gave up another solo shot to Starling Marte leading off the bottom of the fourth. Who cares! He wiggled out of a two-on jam thanks to J.P. putting a ribbon on what should be his second straight Gold Glove season.

His next two innings breezed by, a walk to Marte in the sixth the only flaw, and as has been the case all season, the bullpen kept any extra runs at bay. Casey Sadler extended his quiet yet magnificent scoreless streak to 20.2 innings and 23 appearances with a low-stress seventh, and it was time for Paul Sewald in the eighth, after we got a glimpse of him having some fun in the bullpen.

Sewald set down Elvis Andrus and Josh Harrison with ease, though Marte struck one last time with a merciful ground-rule double to right-center; had that ball not gone over, I think he would have easily made it to third. Intentionally walking Matt Olson to set up the force felt both smart and worrisome, but after getting Matt Chapman at 1-2, it was inevitable that he would pull through.

The Mariners weren’t quite done yet, either. After a harmless Moore flyout to lead off the ninth, J.P. stuck a feather in a wonderful night with a moonshot that wrapped around the right field foul pole; so much so that there was some initial confusion as to whether it was foul or not. Damn you, remote broadcasting!

The game had been all but won at that point, but that dinger put Crawford just one shy of double digits on the year, and playing add-on is always entertaining no matter how or when it comes. Drew Steckenrider battled through a leadoff double by pinch-hitter and forever Mariner killer Jed Lowrie and a hit-by-pitch to Canha for a scoreless save, and just like that, the M’s had achieved something very few fans, analysts, and projection systems would have thought in mid-March: they had clinched a winning record. Despite being ravaged by injuries, their depth being pushed to the brink, recent bullpen malfunctioning, and a season-long struggle to push runs across, with just under a dozen games left, the Seattle Mariners cannot finish 2021 under .500. Playoff dreams may be (ok, are DEFINITELY) fading fast, but it’s near impossible not to be happy with how much this club has exceeded expectations. These good feelings might go up in smoke should a dormant offseason follow, but for now, these are nothing but good vibes, and with ostensible ace Chris Flexen going against one of the greatest heels of recent memory in Cole Irvin tomorrow, I’m ready to keep them rolling.