Moore: These Mariners are fun to watch, but is a playoff berth realistic?
The Mariners have officially finished a quarter of their season, or “unofficially” if you want to quibble that 40 games does not exactly constitute one-fourth of a 162-game season, but I say it’s close enough. Some manager somewhere, maybe every manager everywhere, says you get a good idea of what you have in a team after 40 games.
On the off-chance no one ever said that, I’ll run with it anyway for the sake of this column, and I’ll spare you the handing out of grades since we see the Mariners on baseball fields, not in classrooms.
I’m thinking most of us have enjoyed watching this team thus far. They’re 22-17 and play an exciting brand of baseball. They win with small ball, long ball and defense. Their lineup is as deep as I can ever remember it being. They have six players who could hit 25 homers or more.
I thought they’d go 81-81 because their rotation would prevent them from being better than a .500 team. But it appears the lineup will more than compensate – the Mariners are on a pace to win 90 games, maybe even 92.
In most seasons, that would be good enough to contend for a division title. This year it’s only good enough to contend for the second wild card spot. With their starting pitching, the Astros are going to win 100 games or more and defend their AL West championship, barring injuries in the rotation. We saw four of the five starters at Safeco Field last month, and they were all outstanding. The Mariners lost three of those four games and didn’t even have to face Houston’s ace, Justin Verlander.
The first wild card will undoubtedly go to the second-place team in the AL East, the Yankees or Red Sox, both on a pace to win 112 games. It appears that the Mariners will be in a season-long race for the second wild card with the Angels, and you’d have to think that Los Angeles has a slight advantage. Shohei Ohtani’s the tie-breaker, and we saw why earlier this month when he shut down the Mariners with his arm and also cracked out two hits in another game with his bat. To think the Mariners were in the Ohtani sweepstakes ’til the very end.
I’m guessing if Ohtani ever told us, he’d say that the Mariners finished second to the Angels in his choice of major league teams, but general manager Jerry Dipoto probably felt like I did after the Kentucky Derby. I bet $20 on Good Magic to win, and the horse finished second, which means I ended up with nothing, just like Dipoto. But it’s even worse for him. I will probably never watch Good Magic race again; Dipoto, for as long as he’s Seattle’s GM, will have to watch Ohtani hurting his team for years to come.
That’s the worst part of all of this. The Angels have two young superstars with Mike Trout and Ohtani, and like the youthful and talented Astros, it’s not just this year, those two teams will be tough to beat in your division well into the 2020s.
Most years an 88- or 90-win team wins a division or makes the playoffs as a wild card team. This year, at the rate the Red Sox, Yankees and Angels are going, it might take 95 wins to get the second wild card spot. Wouldn’t that be just the Mariners’ luck, to go 93-69 and extend their playoff drought to 18 years?
When I watch them, I try to focus on the day-to-day stuff and ignore that depressing big picture stuff. I don’t like to think of them as a really good team in a year when you need to be great to make the cut in the American League. This could be like a PGA Tour event when you shoot 71 and 70 and don’t make the cut because the leaders shot 64 and 65 in the first two rounds.
Optimistically, let’s say the Mariners do enough to earn the second wild card and advance to the next round because James Paxton throws a gem against the Yankees. Love those baseball terms – if Big Maple actually “throws a gem,” know what that means? He’s “some kinda” pitcher. Never once have I heard a football announcer call Russell Wilson some kinda quarterback.
Speaking of that, I also love that baseball superstition in which you’re not supposed to let anyone know that so-and-so has a no-hitter going because if you do, it will jinx his chances. This one is completely ridiculous, yet if we were listening to the 710 ESPN Seattle broadcast of Paxton’s no-hitter against Toronto last Tuesday, we would never hear Rick Rizzs or Gary Hill tell us that he had a no-hitter going in the fifth or sixth inning. They conveyed the information in different ways so that everyone would know what was going on, but what’s funny is the thinking that an announcer or anyone else would actually have an impact on what’s about to happen on the field. And I love it anyway.
In that optimistic scenario, the Mariners beat the Yankees, but this is when my old friend Realistic Randy shows up. I don’t really like hanging out with Randy, but when you’re as cynical as I am, he shows up unannounced all the time, ringing my doorbell over and over again until I get up and let him in. Realistic Randy would tell you that this optimistic scenario is possible, but anything beyond that? Well, you’ll have to contact another friend of mine, Pipedream Pete, for that. Pipedream Pete thinks the Mariners could go on to beat the Red Sox in a five-game series and the Astros in seven games in the ALCS and go to the World Series for the first time in franchise history. I get a kick out of Pipedream Pete – he’s usually drunk and says stupid things all the time.
I won’t even introduce you to Objective Omar because you’ll accuse me of having as many imaginary friends as Manti Te’o and abusing the use of alliterations. Omar and Randy spend a lot of time together and laugh hysterically at Pipedream Pete while offering him another shot of tequila. These guys know what’s what – they see a Mariners’ rotation that has Paxton and little else. Felix Hernandez, Mike Leake and Marco Gonzales have ERAs north of 5, and fifth starter Wade LeBlanc is a capable fill-in but not a long-term solution. Short outings will wear out the bullpen over the course of a season, and Juan Nicasio is already proving to be an unreliable eighth-inning setup guy.
Now you throw in the loss of Robinson Cano for a month or more to a broken bone in his hand, and you wonder if the Mariners can keep up their early pace without their best player. Yet the Mariners have overcome several injuries to this point, so maybe they can do it again.
At least we can agree on this – the Mariners have been entertaining and interesting, equipped to make the next three-quarters of the season more intriguing than it’s been in years.