Drayer: Mariners’ roster, after adversity, is in place with top Wild Card in play
Aug 12, 2022, 9:12 AM
(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
With Julio Rodríguez reinstated from the IL, the Mariners will take the field Friday night in Texas with their full lineup for the first time since April 29, the day Mitch Haniger returned from the COVID IL, which lasted all of one at-bat as he suffered the high-ankle sprain, an injury that would see him miss 87 games.
Julio, Mitch and the rest of the lineup will enter this game knowing the tough parts of their schedule are behind them having gone 10-10 in the most recent stretch, a gauntlet that included 13 games against two top teams in the American League, the Astros and Yankees. In front of them now, 49 games with a strength of schedule ranking of 30, good for dead last.
As they say here in Texas, giddyup.
A year ago, the Mariners were chasing a Wild Card spot. Today, they control their destiny holding the second Wild Card, just a half game behind Toronto in the top spot with their 14-game wining streak the difference-maker.
Heading into their game against the A’s on June 21, the Mariners sat 29-39 with the prospect of a long, disappointing summer ahead of them. The only shot at putting themselves in position to make a postseason run would be to win at a ridiculous clip, which, somehow, they did. Had they gone 7-7, today their record would be 54-59, which would put them 5.5 games out of a Wild Card spot with Boston, Chicago, Minnesota and Baltimore all ahead of them.
Realistically there is one target. With the Astros up 11 games in the AL West, it would take an epic collapse for the Mariners to win the division. The top Wild Card spot is a fantastic carrot with great rewards, however. That playoff atmosphere we witnessed this week at T-Mobile Park? The only way the Mariners see that again in the Wild Card round is if they are in the top spot as the Wild Card games are played only in the home parks of the top team and division winner with the third-best record in the American League.
The path? Play good baseball and let the schedule deal with the rest. The Blue Jays have the ninth-toughest schedule remaining with seven games against the Yankees, nine against the Rays, two against the Phillies and 13 against what could turn out to be the ultimate spoiler team, the Baltimore Orioles.
The Mariners the rest of the way? Three against the Braves at T-Mobile park, two against the Padres, seven the Guardians and three against a quickly fading White Sox team. That’s it. The icing on top? Sept. 20 through Oct. 5 is a run of Oakland, Kansas City, Texas, Oakland and Detroit to finish the season.
Of course, you will want to keep an eye on what is going on behind them with the Rays and Orioles within two games reach. Those two teams play each other nine times in the coming weeks, and after that, you don’t want the Orioles to be too good of spoilers. With seven games against the Astros and three with the Yankees remaining, however, it’s probably safe to root them as they face other Wild Card hopefuls.
The scoreboard watching the rest of the way should be fun, but the real show should be what is right in front of us. If all goes well, this final stretch should be as much about getting ready for a postseason run as it is about getting there. The two series against the Yankees were perhaps a preview. Playoff baseball is different. Complain about the offense all you want – and yes, a bit more would be nice – but it is the pitching that dominates in October.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone believes the Mariners are built right.
“I think they are really good,” he said following the loss Wednesday. “They can pitch, you know, obviously have some good starters, but their bullpen is, I think, about as good a bullpen as we’ve faced. They can mix and match, they’ve got right and left in their lineup…That team certainly feels for real.”
“That team” is finally in place, and it is very worth noting what was gained through their struggles and adversity in getting to this point. No loss of player or game has proven to be too big. No game is over until the final out. There is tremendous belief in that clubhouse.
When I saw Jerry Dipoto get on the plane Wednesday morning, I laughed to myself thinking, “Well, what have you got to do now?” The deadline has passed, the rotation has been sorted out, an ace has been added, areas of need shored up.
The team is in place. Now, they play.