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

Sep 26, 2022, 11:11 AM | Updated: 5:00 pm
Mariners J.P. Crawford...
J.P. Crawford of the Seattle Mariners strikes out against the Padres at T-Mobile Park on Sept. 13, 2022. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Mariners finally landed back in Seattle on Sunday night after a nightmare 3-7 road trip against the Angels (1-3), A’s (1-2) and Royals (1-2). And just when you thought things might end on a positive note, the Mariners somehow squandered away an 11-2 lead against the Royals on Sunday to lose 13-12.

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It was a dreadful performance that poetically summed up the 10-game stretch in a Shakespearean sort of way.

And yet, holistically, not much has changed within the American League’s wild card picture. The Mariners (83-69) are in the No. 3 wild card spot, just 2.5 games back of Toronto (86-67, including 5-5 over their last 10) and a half-game back of the Rays (84-69, 4-6 last 10). The Orioles (79-73, 4-6 last 10) remain four games back of Seattle, which is really five games given the Mariners own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Seattle’s magic number has dropped to six.

The Mariners are far more likely to claim the No. 1 wild card than fall out of the playoff picture altogether. The AL East teams playing each other certainly helped, as did Houston taking two of three against Baltimore over the weekend.

As J.P. Crawford told The Seattle Times following Saturday’s win over the Royals, “You know, social media might not think so … but we’re in a good spot in here, mentally and physically. So we’re fine. We’re not pressing at all. We’re in a good spot here in the clubhouse.”

Crawford is right. As I just detailed above, the Mariners remain in a great spot. But his quip about social media was notable. Anyone who has delved into Mariners Twitter over the last week and a half knows that folks have been down bad.

I won’t exclude myself from that, as I too have had that feeling of “oh no I’ve seen this movie before” and expressed as much publicly. It doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to understand where the pessimism stems from. The franchise’s 21-year playoff drought makes that pretty obvious, and there are a number of extra layers that add to the anxiety of the fanbase.

This lineup has been largely punchless without Julio Rodríguez and Eugenio Suárez, both of whom are out due to injury. Seattle scored just one run in half the games during the road trip. The uncertainty surrounding Rodríguez’s lower back issues has been ominous, as well. It’s hard to imagine the Mariners surviving the wild card round without both of them.

The pitching staff wasn’t great either. Crisp 1-2-3 innings were hard to come by with Seattle posting a 5.31 ERA over its last 10 games. The rotation struggled across the board with Luis Castillo’s pair of outings (nine earned runs in 10 innings) being the most concerning.

There’s also the element of luck that makes it harder to feel good about FanGraphs still giving Seattle 99.9% odds to make the playoffs. Enduring a 3-7 road trip and only dropping one game in the wild card standings is undeniably lucky. Things would be far more tense had the Orioles swept the Astros, an outcome that was a ninth inning implosion on Saturday and an extra innings loss on Sunday away from happening.

Now, beggars can’t be choosers, and us Mariners fans are absolutely desperate for playoff baseball, but limping across the finish line would certainly dampen the collective celebration when the magic number eventually hits zero (Seattle could theoretically clinch a playoff berth without winning another game).

That’s why Crawford’s jab at Mariners Twitter felt unnecessary, at least in my humble opinion. Every player in that clubhouse should understand why emotions are so volatile and varying among Mariners fans.

Would it be great if every fan had unwavering optimism despite what transpired the last 10 games? Yes, absolutely, and credit to those who embody that sentiment. But the wide-ranging levels of dread and worry come with the territory of being a Mariners fan.

Conversely, it’s incumbent on fans to acknowledge that this club is unfairly carrying the weight of the franchise’s shortcomings of the last two decades plus. Crawford, 27, was just 6 years old last time the Mariners played in a playoff game. The 21-year-old Rodríguez hadn’t even turned 1. Shouldering the burden of ending the postseason drought in Seattle cannot be trivialized. Contrary to what Crawford said, I’d suggest that these Mariners are pressing a bit, and understandably so.

Seattle has 10 games left to play against the Rangers (3), A’s (3) and Tigers (4), all of which will be at home at T-Mobile Park. There’s a decent chance the Mariners will have clinched a playoff spot and put an end to their notorious streak by this time next week.

The sooner the better as far as I’m concerned, for the sake and sanity of all involved.

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