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Thursday, August 13, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Vince Grippi: Fantasy looks a lot better than reality as Mariners hope to end postseason drought

By Vince Grippi For The Spokesman-Review

Baseball purists will tell you fantasy baseball dates back to the 1980s, when Rotisserie became all the rage. They are wrong.

Fantasy baseball has been played since Abner Doubleday or someone like him threw the first pitch.

Even then, a fan was probably sitting there, watching, and dreaming of Doubleday’s team winning. No matter how badly Ab’s team played, the fan believed.

That’s true fantasy baseball. And no one is better at the game than Mariners fans. Recent vintage Mariners fans, at least.

Every year they fantasize about their team making the playoffs, something that’s existed only in the realm of make-believe since 2001. And every year their fantasy bursts, usually by the end of July.

That’s not the case this year, and not just because the season is starting with less than a week left in the aforementioned month – or because baseball has decided to expand the playoffs to eight teams in each league.

It’s OK to fantasize about the M’s and the postseason this morning. Heck, we will join you. This is the year the M’s break their 18-year streak of not qualifying for the playoffs. For the record, we felt that way even before baseball’s participation-trophy-level postseason expansion. Now we’re sure of it.

It is fine if you believe as well. And we can prove it. Trust us.

You want history? It was just two years ago the M’s, under then third-year manager Scott Servais, led the American League West after 60 games. Believe it. They were 38-22 and two games ahead of the eventual division champions, the Houston Astros.

You want analytics? Baseball Reference, the bible of many statistical aficionados, projected the original 2020 season as it should have played out. It was a way to fill in those languid days without baseball. Guess what? After 60 games, the pseudo-Mariners were 37-23 and in first place in the American League West.

You want projections? The over/under betting line for American League teams includes only one, the New York Yankees, with more than 37 wins. The Astros’ line is set at 35, the A’s 32.5. That’s basically the bar the M’s have to reach and, as the two paragraphs above show, it’s not impossible.

You want reality? No, you don’t.

You don’t want to think about how many players have left the M’s since 2018, or how computers sometimes glitch when trying to analyze this franchise, or how Vegas has the M’s winning less than 24 games. You don’t want to compare their rotation to, say, the Astros – or most everyone else in the league, for that matter. You don’t want to realize how many youngsters, from Evan White to Kyle Lewis to Shed Long, are being counted upon to bolster the lineup. You don’t want to think about their best player, Mitch Haniger, being injured or their starting catcher, Tom Murphy, beginning the season on the disabled list. You don’t want to recall general manager Jerry Dipoto waving the white flag on the season even before the coronavirus invaded.

That’s not part of fantasy baseball. The true fantasy player looks at the opening-day roster and sees nothing but potential. They look at Lewis and see untapped power. They look at Long and see blazing speed. They look at White and see balls leaving the confines of T-Mobile. They look at Marco Gonzales and see Jamie Moyer, with a bit more on the heater. They look at Taijuan Walker and see his past success. They look at the youthful starters and see Randy Johnson and Felix Hernandez. They look at the left-behind kids, from Jarred Kelenic to Noelvi Marte to Logan Gilbert, and see a midseason bump.

Everywhere they look, they see potential. A quick start. A strong middle. A run to the postseason.

It is a fantasy, after all.

Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais talks with players on the field at a "summer camp" baseball practice Sunday, July 12, 2020, in Seattle.   (Associated Press)
Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais talks with players on the field at a "summer camp" baseball practice Sunday, July 12, 2020, in Seattle.  (Associated Press)

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