SEATTLE – The good news is that it’s baseball, and you don’t have to be the best team to hoist a trophy. Clubs that win 100 games in the regular season often fail to win three in the postseason.
That’s the nature of a sport with too many variables to make any sort of firm prediction in a given series. What was that quote from Mr. Moneyball, Billy Beane? “My (stuff) doesn’t work in the playoffs.”
This should be disconcerting to fans of the Astros or Dodgers or Indians, whose squads are primed for another triple-digit-victory year. But it might give Mariners fans hope. Because let’s face it: The best this year’s M’s can hope for is good. Great just isn’t in the picture.
Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto has said on record that the “heavy lifting” is done in regards to a roster overhaul this offseason. He signed Dee Gordon. He reached deals with James Paxton, Mike Zunino, Erasmo Ramirez, David Phelps and Nick Vincent – all of whom were arbitration-eligible. He made a run at Shohei Ohtani, who spurned Seattle for the Angels. But that game-changing, electric charge of an acquisition never took place.
It’s not Dipoto’s fault, necessarily. The farm system is borderline barren, giving him little room to trade any prospects. And when you look at the money they owe players such as Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager and Gordon, there isn’t the financial flexibility to land a whale.
That hit home over the weekend when the Astros signed former Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole, adding even more depth to the World Series champions’ rotation. So what does this mean for the Mariners?
It means they’re stuck in Mediocrityville – and have to hope for mediocre-plus.
Two years since Dipoto took over and named Scott Servais manager, the M’s have epitomized average. They won 78 games last year, 86 the season before, giving them a winning percentage of .506.
No doubt that a tidal wave of injuries cost them victories last year, but that is going to happen when Father Time is breathing down the necks of Cruz, Cano and Hernandez, among others.
It’s just a weird place to be as a franchise. A rebuild doesn’t seem imminent, but neither does a 90-win season.
This wouldn’t be easy for fans to stomach in any circumstance, but it has to be that much more grating with the Bills making the NFL playoffs. Buffalo’s berth made the Mariners’ 16-year postseason drought the longest in any of the four major American sports leagues.
The raw data suggests that skid will extend to 17 years.
Fittingly, FanGraphs.com projects the 2018 Mariners to finish 81-81. It looked at their aging roster, made note of players such as Jarrod Dyson becoming free agents and labeled them a middling team.
So is there any hope? Sure. But there isn’t any room for error.
Next year’s Mariners are going to have to be a portrait of health for them to have any chance. No Paxton going down for a month. No Felix going down for two. The Mariners’ training staff might end up as the most vital members of the organization.
The Mariners also are going to need six months of consistency from their bullpen – which was the best in the majors for a stretch last season.
A breakout star wouldn’t hurt, either. Before straining his oblique on April 25, M’s outfielder Mitch Haniger had the best WAR in baseball. Catcher Mike Zunino had a Herculean June, when he tallied 10 home runs and 31 RBIs.
Months like that will be compulsory next season. Someone unexpected will have to get the national media talking. The Mariners don’t necessarily need a miracle to get in the playoffs, but they could use something resembling one.
The way I see it, the M’s are basically the Portland Trail Blazers of MLB. Not disastrous. Not inspiring. Just firmly wedged in the middle.
The difference is, if the Blazers make the playoffs, they have no chance of unseating a major NBA power. Baseball works a little bit differently.
So if you’re a M’s fan, cross your fingers. And do it as tightly as possible.
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