SEATTLE – Most significant 10-game stretch since …
Well, it’s hard to beat 1995. The Mariners, who’d never been to the postseason before, were one game behind the Angels in the AL West with 10 games to go that year, and one game ahead of the Yankees for the lone wild-card spot. There was also the suspense of whether the team was going to be in Seattle given the uncertainty of the stadium situation. The M’s, as you surely know, went on to win the division and their first-round playoff series.
How about 2000?
That didn’t seem quite as dramatic at the time, as the M’s held a three-game lead in the division over the A’s after game 152, but they ended up giving away the West while barely clinging on to the wild card.
There’s 2014 as well. That season, the Mariners were one game back of Kansas City and Oakland in the wild-card race with 10 contests left, then watched their playoff hopes evaporate on the last game of the season when the A’s clinched against Texas.
In short: This pending 10-game span isn’t completely new territory for this team or town – but man, it sure feels like top-tier theater.
As it stands, the M’s are a half-game back of Houston in the division and tied with the Rangers for the final wild-card spot. What makes this particularly intriguing is that the Mariners’ next (and final) 10 games come against the Rangers and Astros – the last seven of which will be at home.
If you want playoff baseball in September, you’re essentially getting it with the Mariners right now. Every result is going to feel as if it is shaping the team’s future.
It’s fascinating to think about how the Mariners got here. Before the season began, the M’s being in this situation might have been seen as a disappointment. The scorching second half they put together in 2022 almost made it feel like a return to the playoffs was inevitable.
But if you were to go back a couple of months, specifically to June 30 – when the Mariners lost to the Rays 15-4 and fell to 38-42 – a return to the playoffs would have felt miraculous.
Like they have done so many times over the past several years, the Mariners have taken their fans on a half-thrilling, half-maddening ride through the first 5½ months of the season. Their FanGraphs’ playoff percentage has dipped to the teens, surged above 80 and now sits at 64.9.
The Aug. 1 trade deadline felt like a surrender before the Mariners strung off eight straight wins to become a contender. The organization’s supporters have felt an assortment of emotions over the season, but boredom wasn’t one of them.
So are the Mariners getting in? Well, they certainly have the talent for it.
Though the pitching has been spotty over the past couple of weeks, Seattle still has the best team ERA in MLB at 3.70 – and the fourth-best bullpen ERA at 3.52. They also have a number of hurlers who pitched in the playoffs last season, meaning lack of high-leverage experience shouldn’t be a heavy factor.
Additionally, center fielder Julio Rodriguez has returned to form as one of the best players in the world, getting RBI No. 100 on Wednesday to go along with 31 homers and 36 stolen bases.
What might frighten the Mariners die-hards is that they’ve struggled against quality teams lately. “Struggled” might actually be charitable.
Before completing the three-game sweep of the A’s Wednesday, Seattle was on the opposite side of a sweep versus the Dodgers. And that came after losing three out of four to the Rays, which came after dropping two out of three to the Reds. The Mariners have been “tweeners” for most of September, cleaning up against the cellar-dwellers but falling to the mighty. The Rangers and Astros are the latter.
It feels like there are legacies – to a certain extent, at least – on the line here as well. If the Mariners win the division, they will have the appearance of the blossoming big-league titan that Jerry Dipoto (president of baseball operations) and Scott Servais (manager) have molded since coming on in 2015. If they miss out on the playoffs, some folks will be quick to point out that this team has just one postseason to its name in the Dipoto/Servais era.
Whatever happens, it’s tough to ask for much more if you’re a fan. The Mariners have had their memorable stretches.
There’s a chance these next few weeks could top them all.