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Drayer: Dare to dream? A look at what stands between Mariners and playoffs

A streaking young Mariners team is suddenly in the playoff race. (Getty)

Sunday evening on the Mariners postgame show, we went there.

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I didn’t want to be the first to say it out loud but when the news came down that Astros starter Lance McCullers had been placed on the 10-day injured list with a nerve issue in his neck, it was time to fire up the Dave Grosby “Dare to Dream Express” once more.

On Sunday night, the Mariners were three games behind the Astros for second in the division, but 24 hours later they had picked up another game. In a normal year we would be looking at wild card standings for the path to the postseason but this year there is a more direct route with both the first- and second-place teams in each division earning a postseason berth.

What looked impossible two weeks ago all of the sudden is worth at least considering, and that is a surprise twist in the Mariners’ year of getting their young players experience at the big league level.

Is it likely they upend the reining American League champions? That still feels like silly talk, but let’s take a closer look starting with the schedules. The Mariners are currently on a great run where they have won 12 of their last 16 games and six straight, which matches their best winning streak in 2019. The bulk of the 19-22 Mariners’ wins have come against teams with losing records, with nine coming against the Rangers or Angels. The schedule will get tougher, however, with only three of their remaining 19 games coming against a sub-.500 team and their final week of the season a gauntlet of nothing but games against the Astros and AL West-leading A’s.

The Astros’ schedule on the other hand, much easier as they have 10 games left on their schedule against the last-place Rangers and Diamondbacks. That said, they just got swept by the Angels in a four-game series. Say what? Yes, that just happened. The Astros are currently in the midst of a five-game losing streak as they start the toughest part of their remaining schedule with four games against the A’s and two against the Dodgers. Things could get interesting real quick.

The Astros have been hit hard by the injury bug with the biggest hit coming to a rotation that has seen Gerritt Cole and Charlie Morton depart in the last two years without being replaced by similar talent. Justin Verlander looked like Justin Verlander early but he has spent the majority of the season on the IL with a forearm strain and has only just recently returned to the mound, throwing two sessions since the injury in the last week.

Houston’s bullpen, which was suspect coming into the year, has taken hits as well. Ranked 21st in fWAR over the last 30 days, they lost two key members on Monday as Blake Taylor and Chris Devenski were placed on the IL with sore elbows. Called up to take one of the spots? Former Mariner Chase DeJong. If all of that isn’t bad enough, the injuries haven’t been limited to the arms with Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez currently on the IL. In short, this doesn’t look like your 2017-2019 Houston Astros.

At first glance this looks like two clubs heading in different directions as they approach the end of the season. There is no question the Mariners are playing their best ball of the season with the starters putting up strong outings on a near-nightly basis and the offense averaging 5.42 runs over their last 14 games. The team on the whole is controlling the control-ables with good defense and baserunning, and the starters aren’t walking anyone. Even the bullpen has shown improvement, although it remains the weak link on this team.

All of this is good but none of it erases the fact that the Astros could wake up at any minute and discover that they are still a supremely talented team. Perhaps getting Alex Bregman back from the IL on Tuesday will be the spark they have been looking for.

Regardless, the Mariners’ play over the last three weeks has put them in position to keep things interesting heading into the final three weeks of the season. While the division seems the best path, they are also just two games out of the second Wild Card spot held currently by the Yankees as well. Good for the Mariners if they can take advantage.

The postseason was never part of the Mariners’ plan in 2020, but while they are here they might as well try to make a run. There’s no reason a stretch run can’t be a part of development, and whether they get there or not, scoreboard watching in the final week of the season would be welcome in a season that already can be deemed a success in terms of what they set out to do. Perhaps that will be the bonus of the 2020 season as we get to know this group better.

Follow Mariners insider Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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