To the surprise of no one, I am a competitive person. I am the task-master on our weekly pub trivia team. If someone is walking quickly on the street, I will adjust my pace to walk more quickly than them. I play board games because I enjoy them but also because I want to grow the shit out of some vines and make wines superior in quantity and quality to my friends’, and consequently dominate them in an imaginary world where we’re all titans of the winemaking industry with extensive family estates instead of shitty one-bedroom apartments. (I’m even competitive in games intentionally designed to minimize competition. Parks, the game? I will enjoy these parks so hard.)
So it’s a strange feeling to look back at the Mariners’ past week of wimpy offensive performances, several of which I had to hold my nose about while recapping, and now feel...neutral about it. The losses were no fun to stomach, especially that Sunday Royals game (Poo Pie 2: Revenge of the Ick), but they had essentially no bearing on the Mariners’ playoff chances, which never fell far below 98-99% due to other teams hitting stumbling blocks at the same time the Mariners did.
Those stinky losses did have bearing on the Mariners’ chances of overtaking the Blue Jays for the first Wild Card spot, though. Both teams opened the month hot; Toronto won eight of their ten first games in September, and the Mariners went 7-3. However, both teams slumped over the second half of the month, although Toronto, marginally less so, going 6-5 to just squeak out an over-.500 record while the Mariners flipped their early-month performance and went a dreadful 3-8. Two games is not a tremendous margin, and better play could have moved the Mariners into the spot of hosting a home game. But that did not happen. That is sad, and frustrating, because Seattle fans deserve a home playoff game. It does feel somewhat like the team let the fans down in this exact moment in time. However, allow me to refer you to the sentence of the paragraph above: the losses did not significantly impact the Mariners’ overall chances of making the playoffs. The Mariners will make the playoffs. Keep this fact foremost in your mind, even as you mourn what could have been.
There is still a minimal chance the Mariners could jump ahead of the Blue Jays, who clinched their playoff spot today, but it would involve Toronto playing very badly against a pair of teams who are out of it themselves in the Orioles and Red Sox. As we’ve seen, sometimes teams who are out of it play really well! The power of spite compels them.
So if the Mariners don’t lose a single game of their remaining eight (unlikely), Toronto would have to go 5-1 against a pair of teams they’ve handled easily this season. That’s difficult, but not impossible; however, the real difficulty in that scenario is an injury-battered Julio-less Mariners team going 8-0. If the Mariners go a more reasonable 6-2, the Blue Jays only need to play .500 ball to maintain position. If the Mariners play .500 ball down the stretch—something we would have begged for over the road trip—the Blue Jays only need to win one of their next six to secure the spot. So the Mariners working their way into a playoff home game is mathematically possible, but not likely.
The bigger issue is Tampa Bay. The Mariners don’t hold a tiebreaker over the Rays like they do over the Blue Jays, so there’s no extra comfort in these numbers. The Mariners have to be a game and a half better than Tampa Bay to overtake them, so not only does Toronto have to lose out, but Tampa Bay does, too—an easier task in this scenario because even as the Rays finish against the Red Sox, they first will have to face the Astros, who even in powered-down mode continue to be ferocious and recently swept Tampa Bay in three games at home.
Actually, the real bigger issue is the Mariners potentially overtaking the Rays and finding themselves in the WC2 spot. As Isabelle outlined the other day, WC2 is the least-favorable of the playoff scenarios, as it involves going to face the powerful Blue Jays in Toronto. WC3 is a potentially softer draw against Cleveland, initially drawn up to be a punishment for the third Wild Card spot (you have to go face a divisional winner! Scary!) but the powers that be didn’t foresee the Central being the Godfather III of the AL.
With Tampa Bay also limping into their season end having to face one of the best teams in baseball, the best-case scenario for the Mariners might actually be...losing. This is anathema for my competitive spirit, and the players on the team as well, and it wouldn’t be any fun to witness, certainly not as much fun as ripping off an undefeated streak and storming into the WC1 spot. But it might be for the best, even if it feels like the team has lost momentum and is backsliding into the dark days of April/May; it’s a yucky feeling, but it might not be the worst thing, especially if those losses come while the beating heart of their team, Julio, is on the shelf (and several other key members are playing with one functional arm-limb shared between them). Mariners fans are not used to good things happening to them and have a well-deserved amount of distrust in the universe, but have faith. If they lose, they still make the playoffs. If they win, they make the playoffs. There is no bad-case scenario here.
The point of this article is not to encourage you to root for Mariners losses. But just like the losses during the Road Trip We Shall Never Again Speak Of (or The Road (Trip), as presented by Cormac McCarthy) turned out not to mean that much in the grand scheme of things, I encourage you to take any losses down this stretch in stride, as well. It will all work out. There is just one thing to remember before getting wrapped around the axle about losses and playoff scenarios and Wild Card berths: The 2022 Seattle Mariners are making the playoffs. They’re going to get there. As Charles Dickens-slash-Gonzo says in A Muppet Christmas Carol, “that one thing you must remember, or nothing that follows will seem wondrous.” The drought will end, and we’re all going to be here to see it. God bless us, every one.