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Out of right field: Path to postseason for Mariners still tough, even with hot start

UPDATED: Sat., May 12, 2018, 4:45 p.m.

The Seattle Mariners’ Robinson Cano blows a bubble as he looks towards the field after lining out against the Toronto Blue Jays during the fifth inning Wednesday, May 9, 2018, in Toronto. (Nathan Denette / Canadian Press)
The Seattle Mariners’ Robinson Cano blows a bubble as he looks towards the field after lining out against the Toronto Blue Jays during the fifth inning Wednesday, May 9, 2018, in Toronto. (Nathan Denette / Canadian Press)

Could this be the year? The year the Mariners break their postseason drought?

Who do I look like, Nostradamus?

If you want me to throw the remains of last night’s KFC dinner on the ground and interpret the bones, I will, but you might not like it.

Yes, the Mariners are off to a nice start. They had their best April since 2003. They have won all but a couple of series. They have been great on the road. Before Saturday’s games, their record of 21-15 was fifth best in the American League.

And therein lies the problem. A miniproblem, maybe, but still a problem.

Five teams make the playoffs – the three division champions and two wild-card squads.

The Mariners may have the fifth-best record, but they are currently third in the wild-card standings. And that could be tough to change.

Someone has to win the American League Central title. The Indians are the favorite, but they are scuffling, playing less than .500 baseball nearly a quarter of the way through the regular season. The rest of the Central is, well, either poor or putrid.

The Yankees and the Red Sox should battle for the East title, with the second-place finisher the odds-on favorite to host the wild-card game.

That leaves the West.

Houston, the defending world champion, should win. If the Astros don’t, it would be an epic upset. The Angels, with a boost from Shohei Ohtani, the hitter, and another from Shohei Ohtani, the pitcher, could be there as well. The A’s are OK. The Rangers? More on them in a moment.

Which means the Mariners, trying to earn enough wins to make the postseason, will have to do it in what looks to be the toughest American League division. They will have more games against good teams than the Red Sox or Yankees, and the same as the Angels and Astros. It’s a bit of a quandary.

There is also the problem of the league’s great divide.

The American League has become the domain of haves – Astros, Yankees, Red Sox, maybe the Angels, Mariners, Indians – and have-nots.

As of Saturday morning, the Orioles had won 11 games, the Royals 13, the Rangers 16. And the White Sox? Nine. All four teams are on pace to lose somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 games, though Texas rose just above that awful level with a Friday night win.

If they all descend to the 100-loss chasm, it would be historic, in a dilapidated, should-be-torn-to-the-ground sort of way.

Since the Mariners last made the postseason – their 116-win 2001 season – 10 American League teams have lost at least 100 games. Total.

Three of those came in 2002, when the Mariners won 93 games and didn’t make the playoffs. That season there were four more A.L. teams with more than that total, one other team with just as many and only one wild-card spot.

Every year since 2002, no more than a single A.L. team has lost at least 100 games. Since 2008, only two teams – the 2010 M’s and the 2013 Astros – have lost 100 games.

But more bad teams mean more wins for everyone else, expanding the pool for wild-card contenders. If that’s the route Seattle must follow – and how many of you believe the M’s are as good as Houston over the long haul? – then it could be southbound-5-on-Friday-night crowded.

Wouldn’t that just be the Mariners’ luck, to have another 93-win, playoff-missing season?

That’s why our prediction skills seem a bit clouded. The future is unpredictable.

But this is true today: The M’s have played well. Their offense is solid. The bullpen is as well. The starters are getting by. They are in the playoff hunt.

All that is clearly worth enjoying, no matter what happens tomorrow.

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