Yesterday, the Seattle Mariners capped off an embarrassing 3-7 road trip by blowing a nine-run lead and losing 13-12 to the 63-90 Kansas City Royals. It’s been an impressively mortifying stretch for a franchise whose highlight reels from the last two decades would perhaps be equally at home on MLB Network and America’s Funniest Home Videos. Perhaps it was the result of six planets in retrograde (is this the first time Lookout Landing has linked to an article in Cosmo? Makin’ history baby), or that eyelash I wished on a few weeks ago that wouldn’t budge from my thumb, or the salt that spilled last Tuesday. More likely, it was the loss of two stars to the IL, a fatigued bullpen, outfield theatrics c/o Jesse Winker and Ty France suffering from extremely niche HTBGAB-grade amnesia. But we all have to do our part, and I’m sincerely sorry about the salt/eyelash.
Despite this run of baseball that has felt spiritually like the week one of my roommates discovered the singing cowboys in the sky song and took to either singing or playing it for seven days straight, Seattle’s postseason hopes remain high. FanGraphs has them at 99.9% odds to make the playoffs. Their magic number is six, they have essentially a five game cushion over the Baltimore Orioles (due to winning the season series against them, making a tie an automatic win for the M’s and forcing the O’s to be a full game better to actually best Seattle in the standings) and they have 10 more games left to play.
So, by and large, the AL Wild Card is set. What remains to be sorted, though, are the standings within - and that’s where things get rather hairy for the Mariners. A brief breakdown of the Wild Card matchups and what they mean:
- Wild Card 1: Host a best-of-three series at home against WC 2
- Wild Card 2: Travel to WC 1 stadium for a best-of-three series
- Wild Card 3: Travel to AL division winner with the worst record (Cleveland) for a best-of-three series
Wild Card 3 is meant to be the toughest task, but what the new playoff structure failed to take into account was the utter inanity of the AL Central. It’s not impossible for this year’s WC 3 to go into that matchup with an equal or better record than the Guardians. Which is not to say that Cleveland is not formidable - that pitching staff would give many a Victorian waif the vapors - but it’s a relatively more even matchup. A Wild Card 4, if you will, and a particularly more favorable matchup for the M’s, who went 6-1 against Cleveland this season.
Wild Card 1 is, obviously, the sweet spot. It’s a home playoff series, with all the requisite fanfare and advantages. So that leaves Wild Card 2 as the ugliest stepchild and, for the Mariners specifically, their worst case scenario.
First and foremost, of course, is the utter injustice of Seattle breaking the longest playoff drought in North America’s four major men’s sports leagues (that’s quite a mouthful. Usually I just tell people it’s been a really long time and we’re all quite sad.) in an away series. It’s a very real possibility that in this scenario the Mariners never get to play a playoff game in Seattle.
Circumstances grow even more worrisome if we operate under the assumption that the Blue Jays, currently 2.5 games ahead of the Rays and Mariners, will be the WC 1 team. Sure, this season the Mariners have fared well against the Jays, going 5-2 in head-to-head matchups, but both of those unpleasant losses came in Canada. The heightened tension and increasingly fierce rivalry against Toronto makes for compelling television, certainly, but the prospect of three games in the hostile confines of Rogers Centre has my stomach roiling.
This last section outlined the concerns about the fact that reigning Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray would, so far as we know, be unable to enter Canada, let alone start in a playoff game, due to our northern neighbors’ COVID-19 vaccination requirements. But as of approximately three hours ago, it was confirmed that those restrictions would be lifted by October 1 - just in time for playoff baseball.
So perhaps things aren’t nearly as dire as they were as I penned this last night (there’s a life lesson in there somewhere, I’m sure), but I stand by my statement. The path beyond the Wild Card is clearer, and playoff baseball in Seattle a far realer chance, if the Mariners can avoid being the second Wild Card team. There are 10 games left (hello grotesque doubleheader on the penultimate day of the season) in the regular season... we’ll see how the Mariners go about positioning themselves for this historic postseason appearance.
***Much knocking on wood occurred during the writing of this article**