Heading into today’s double-header, the Seattle Mariners are privy to the 26th-strongest (or 5th-weakest) remaining strength of schedule by current record this year. Just 18 of their remaining 75 games - less than a quarter - come against teams with records >.500. It’s a staggering number that remains impressive even if you fairly point out the seven with Cleveland (.500) and three with the White Sox (.483) are likely to tip into the positive column by the time both clubs get to throttle their abysmal divisional brethren some more. Houston and the White Sox are the only AL teams with a weaker remaining schedule than Seattle, while Cleveland and Minnesota are the only other AL teams who are even in the bottom half. Boston (1st), Tampa (3rd), and Toronto (9th) all are stuck in the Top-10, and remain the greatest impediments to Seattle’s playoff chances, apologies to Baltimore (7th). Teams with worse records are, in general, less talented and therefore easier to beat. It’s not rocket science; this has to be encouraging news for Seattle’s playoff chances... right?
The last time the Seattle Mariners were in the Hunt for Northwest Green October, they’d won 13 of their last 15 games, heading into an October weekend hosting the fourth-place Angels with their playoff destiny narrowly in their own hands. They lost two of three to the red-clothed Anaheimers, securing 90 wins and an iconic comeback but ultimately falling short of the postseason. In that 15 game stretch, by contrast, they went 7-0 against the 86-win Oakland Athletics, taking two of three from both the 88-loss Kansas City Royals and those same Angels on the road. Last year’s club was famously pesky, winning plenty of games they had no business eking out. They were 44-34 against .500 or better clubs, outpacing all but the Astros, and they were almost equally good against sub-.500 clubs at 46-38.
The problem was that Seattle’s grinding of the chaff, so to speak, was mediocre at best. Most of the American League was better against sub-.500 clubs, as their line was just 10th out of 15 clubs, the worst of any club with a winning record and inferior to multiple clubs with losing records themselves. We saw this the previous time Seattle hung in contention as well, with the 2018 M’s posting a 39-38 rate against >=.500 clubs that was 4th-best in the AL against a 50-35 line that was just 9th in the league. Their inability to truly grind their heel into the crud of their schedule kept them from building the cushion needed to secure a playoff berth. 2018 letdowns against the Rockies, Padres, and Blue Jays were paired with merely decent performances against their lowly divisional rivals in Anaheim and Texas, allowing Oakland to soar past them. In 2021, it was dropping five of six to a mediocre Detroit Tigers club, splitting a series with the Rockies, taking just four of seven from Baltimore, and ceding four of seven to
the Kansas City Royals Salvador Pérez.
In short, the recent consciousness for Mariners fandom has plenty of fodder to be skeptical of a gift horse like Seattle’s current remaining schedule. Yet there is inherently nothing particularly tying this club to those that came before. They’ve been good in one-run games, as you might expect of a club with an above-average bullpen that has solidified in the past month, but not outlandishly so. Their Pythagorean Win-Loss Record suggests they are slightly unlucky, a game behind where they might be expected to be based on their +22 run differential. They also have cause to expect better true talent performance ahead, with several key players seemingly on the mend and en route to rejoin them within the coming weeks. The team’s 106 wRC+ is at present the second-best offensive club relative to the league since the end of 2003, trailing just the 2016 squad, and the pitching compares favorably as well with a 3.99 xFIP and 3.58 ERA, 4th and 3rd respectively in that time frame, variance in offensive environments notwithstanding. In short, these M’s are putting together lots of offense and keeping opponents from scoring much, ergo they should be capable of beating teams with lesser talent with frequency.
Real groundbreaking stuff.
The importance is perhaps psychological as much as anything then for the fanbase. Seattle is in extraordinary position to win most of their remaining series’ and secure a Wild Card spot, while their fellow contenders frequently beat up on one another. Should any one or two of the current Wild Card clubs fall off, all the better as Seattle can more easily swoop in by simply safely navigating themselves forward. They’ll be privy to more non-All-Star-Break scheduled off days in August and September than they had in any of the first four months to boot, hopefully keeping them fresher and healthier.
If Seattle merely wins at their same pace this year against clubs of their respective levels to .500 (a far from scientific metric), they’ll go about 41-34, good for an 86-76 finish that could very well be enough to secure a playoff spot. But given the nature of the >=.500 teams remaining - six vs. the Yankees and seven vs. the Astros - they’ll likely need to feast on the rest of their opponents more ravenously. That means taking a lion’s share of the remaining nine vs. the Athletics, 11 with the Angels, 13 with Texas, four with the Nats, and 10 combined with the disappointing Royals and Tigers. Baseball is never quite so simple as the better team winning, but the Mariners should be the better team in more games going forward than almost any club outside of New York, Houston, and Dodger Stadium. Nothing is guaranteed, but less has to break right for Seattle to break their playoff drought from this point forward than at any other season in decades. It’s an opportunity we can only hope the Mariners take full advantage of.