Lefko: Mariners dealing with weight other wild card hopefuls aren’t
There is an added degree of difficulty, an obstacle unique to the Mariners as the team tries to end a 20-season playoff drought: the weight of expectations. The pressure to end that specter of disappointment and frustration.
No other team in the wild card race carries the souls of the fans on their backs like this team does, fending off and fighting the crushing pressure from generations of hope and unease. If there was panic and alarm after the Mariners dropped three of four to the Angels over the weekend, then settle in. Nothing will come easy in this final stretch.
When MLB Network’s Jon Morosi was on Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob a couple of weeks ago, he summed up the climb the Mariners are facing.
“The mental challenge for the Mariners, unlike anybody else probably in this sport right now, it’s just the expectation of the fans. And it’s a great thing, a beautiful thing,” Morosi said (listen to the segment here). “They’re going to feel that, ready to burst after two decades and needing to have that cathartic moment of making the playoffs.”
It’s not a fatal flaw nor a reason why this team will miss the playoffs, but hopefully that explains why these final five series of the regular season may lead to hand-wringing, nerves and frustration. Strip away the job title and remember that above all, these guys are human. Pressure is innate to all walks of life, so too is buckling at times to the weight of it. This current roster hasn’t lived and died with each season of the drought, but the players certainly are aware of it and feel the meaning of what ending it would do for a fanbase and a city.
The Mariners have accepted this burden and aren’t shying away from it, as evident in a feature put together by MLB Network, but that doesn’t make you immune to pressing too hard on the field if things don’t go as expected because the weight of the expectations to end the drought is ever present. We often hear “Oh, they are pros, they should be able to block it out.” And sure, professional athletes usually do that better than 99% of the population, but you try going up to someone and tell them to “play better” or “calm down” and see how well that works out (don’t actually do this, they usually get madder or more stressed out).
Talent will win out in the end, and the Mariners have the pieces to do it, but that doesn’t mean it will come without struggles the rest of the way.
The Mariners have the easiest remaining schedule in baseball, and no one else around them in the wild card race is even close to having a path as favorable as what awaits Seattle. The A’s are bad, the Royals are bad, the Rangers are bad, and the Tigers are bad… which in a way might make all of this that much more difficult. You’re supposed to beat these teams, which only adds to the pressure if a game starts out poorly or a depleted lineup struggles to put up runs.
Those opponents have the benefit of playing loose, with no expectations. If they lose, eh, no big deal. If they win, they get to potentially spoil another team’s season. That can be a fun place to be in, especially for teams like the A’s and Tigers who have a myriad of young, talented prospects getting opportunities to play for their futures.
We have seen it with the Mariners all season. When a team is having fun, it usually leads to winning games. That joy is still there, and it should be enough to counteract the powerful weight of history.
Who knows what lies ahead over these final few weeks. It could be stress-free clinical, it may be panic-inducing, heart-palpitating flutters of living and dying on every pitch, the lows of inescapable agony and the highs of a pure sprint-through-a-wall adrenaline rush, but isn’t that the inextricable part of being a sports fan?
Nothing worth having ever came easy, and it will be that much more rewarding for it in the end.