BRENT STECKER

Where Mariners’ quest for playoff spot stands after collapse in KC

Sep 25, 2022, 6:13 PM | Updated: Sep 26, 2022, 11:36 am
Mariners Mitch Haniger...
Mariners RF Mitch Haniger reacts after striking out against the Royals on Sept. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

(AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

How fans should be feeling about the Mariners’ chances of ending their postseason drought in less than two weeks and how they are actually feeling right now are probably two different things.

That tends to happen when the seemingly postseason-bound team you root for blows a nearly double-digit lead and loses to a team 27 games under .500 at the end of a dismal road trip.

Fann: Fair or not, players carry burden of M’s playoff drought

No, it has not been an easy last week or two for the Mariners. Eugenio Suárez and Julio Rodríguez, the team’s two best run producers who also play plus defense at key positions on the field, are both now on the injured list, and it certainly shows. The offense has scuffled in recent games, and when it hasn’t, the defense has faltered, proving how important that has been as a combination with Seattle’s usual stingy pitching staff.

The same one that allowed 11 runs in an inning on Sunday, coughing up a nine-run lead in the process.

None of that is good, but depending on what your end goal for the 2022 Mariners is, taking a step back to get a view of the bigger picture should give you a much better feeling about where the M’s stand right now.

Entering a day off Monday, the Mariners are 83-69 and in possession of the third and final American League wild card. Not only that, but they hold a four-game lead over Baltimore, the first team on the outside looking in, as well as the tiebreaker over the Orioles. That leaves Seattle’s magic number to end their postseason drought at a total of six M’s wins and/or O’s losses. And with 10 games to go for each team, it’s pretty unlikely the Mariners don’t clinch that at some point over their final homestand.

There’s a big difference between the Mariners now and all the near-misses the M’s have had at the end of seasons over the last decade of their drought, and it’s that the Mariners aren’t chasing the playoff spot anymore. They’re protecting it, with the opportunity to move up still there. And on paper – which, yes, has been made abundantly clear on this recent Mariners stretch is not where games are decided – Seattle still has an advantage.

MLB wild card standings

The Mariners have Texas (65-87) for three games starting Tuesday, then the last-place Athletics (56-97) for three games over the weekend, and finally four games with Detroit (60-92). Those are three of the bottom four teams in the American League, and Seattle gets to face them in front of big, loud, playoffs-starved T-Mobile Park crowds. Meanwhile the Orioles have to run through the gauntlet of Boston (72-79), New York (93-58) and Toronto (86-67).

Speaking of the Blue Jays, they’re the team the Mariners are chasing for the top wild card – and the guaranteed home postseason games that come with it. Well, Toronto still has to deal with the Yankees and Red Sox itself before the final series with Baltimore. And what about the other team in the mix, the Tampa Bay Rays? They’re only a half-game ahead of Seattle at 83-69 with a series to go against the AL Central champion Cleveland Guardians (86-67, and winners of 10 of their last 11), AL West champion Houston (101-53), and then Boston.

Now, we’ve heard a lot about how the Mariners have such an easy schedule to finish the season, and all that’s amounted to is a bunch of injuries, a bad road trip and a whole lot of fans asking what they’ve done to deserve this. The games still need to be played, and the Mariners need to turn things around so that, A) they don’t back into the playoffs, B) can make a run at the all-important top wild card spot, and C) don’t make the wrong kind of history and somehow find a way to add to the drought instead of ending it.

The good news is there’s still time.

There’s still time for the Mariners to get their mojo back. To get their key players back (the first of which should be Suárez this week). To get the hometown crowd rallying behind them.

Where do the Mariners stand right now? In one way, pretty much at rock bottom. In another way, in really good shape to make the playoffs, setting the stage for what should be a big year in 2023.

The Mariners have been pretty good at finding rock bottom this season and have always bounced back. If they do so again, it should make for a pretty memorable next week and a half. And if they don’t? Well, that will be memorable too, but for the wrong reasons.

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