Can you believe in first-place Mariners? 3 stats that say you can

Jun 11, 2024, 2:52 PM

Seattle Mariners Julio Rodríguez...

Julio Rodríguez of the Seattle Mariners reacts after a single on June 10, 2024. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It can seem like Seattle Mariners fans have a hard time being convinced that their team is in a good spot.

Rick Rizzs’ radio call of Cal Raleigh’s walk-off grand salami is an instant classic

It’s understandable. The M’s have made the playoffs just five times since they joined MLB in 1977, and some good Seattle teams over the years have come painfully close to making the postseason but fell just short.

And when it comes to the T-Mobile Park era of the team, offensive woes have only added to the frustration over the past 20-plus years.

The 2024 team seems to fit that bill, entering Wednesday 21st in MLB in runs scored, 24th in OPS, 28th in doubles and first in strikeouts – that last one being in the not-good way. And yet the Mariners are first in the American League West with a 38-30 record, and they have the largest advantage of any of the three division leaders in the AL. So even though Seattle has the lowest winning percentage of any of the six teams leading a division in MLB, FanGraphs has the Mariners with a 77% chance to make the playoffs and 68.5% chance to win the AL West.

Is this a team fans can believe in? Or are there signs what the M’s are doing isn’t sustainable? At least in terms of winning the division, I’m more in the former camp, and these are three stats that I think add weight to that argument.

1. Strength of schedule – both current and remaining

Let’s lead with this because I think it’s the most telling indicator of where the Mariners are and what stands ahead of them.

Through its first 68 games, Seattle’s strength of schedule (per ESPN’s Relative Power Index page) is .506, meaning the Mariners’ opponents to this point have a composite winning percentage of 50.6%. That ranks eighth in MLB. Is that good? Well, yes, and here’s why: no team with a tougher strength of schedule has a better record than the Mariners, and only one of those seven teams has a record over .500.

It’s worth mentioning that the Mariners aren’t far ahead in strength of schedule of a few teams who have better records. The National League Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers are 39-27 (.591) with a .505 strength of schedule that ranks 10th in baseball, while the AL East-leading New York Yankees are 47-21 (.691) with MLB’s 11th-best strength of schedule at .504.

Here’s where things look really promising. When you look at the strength of schedule for the Mariners’ remaining games, per Tankathon, it’s down all the way to just .473 – which is the lowest of all 30 MLB teams. The Mariners’ toughest competition for the AL West crown, the defending World Series champion Texas Rangers (31-34, which is 5 1/2 back of Seattle), are 18th with a remaining strength of schedule of .499. That being said, the Houston Astros (30-37, which is 7 1/2 back of Seattle) are 27th at .486.

Quickly, let’s go back to that Relative Power Index. ESPN uses a basic formula of 25% team winning percentage, 50% opponents’ average winning percentage, and 25% opponents’ opponents’ average winning percentage to calculate an RPI number. The Mariners’ RPI is .519, which is sixth in baseball. The only teams ahead of them are essentially the real powers in the league right now – the Yankees, Orioles, Phillies, Brewers and Dodgers. And just below the M’s are the three teams duking it out in a much improved AL Central – the Royals, Guardians and Twins.

2. The Seattle Mariners’ intra-division record

If you want to win the AL West, a great way to do so is by taking care of business when you play rivals from the division. So far, so good there for the Mariners.

The M’s are 3-0 against the last-place Los Angeles Angels. They’re 4-2 against the fourth-place Oakland Athletics. Against the Astros, who are in third, they’re 5-2. And in three games thus far with Texas, it’s the Mariners with a slight 2-1 advantage.

That’s a combined 14-5 record against the rest of the AL West.

Seattle has 10 games left against the Angels and Rangers each, seven to go versus Oakland, and six remaining with Houston.

3. Home success

Lastly, the home confines of T-Mobile Park have been friendly this season to the Mariners.

Seattle is 22-11 for a .667 mark at home in 2024, with a plus-27 run differential. That’s considerably better than last year when the M’s went 45-36 (.556) in Seattle, and in 2022 when they were 46-35 (.568).

The Mariners have work to do on the road, however. They were over .500 on the road each of the last two seasons, whereas this year they’ve scuffled a bit and sit at 16-19 (.457). Guess that leaves room for improvement for the team in the driver’s seat in the AL West.

More on the Seattle Mariners

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Watch the biggest plays from Mariners’ chaotic walk-off win over White Sox
Seattle Mariners roster moves: Dylan Moore to paternity list
Mariners Insider: The transition for rookie Ryan Bliss to big leagues
How the first-place Seattle Mariners are showing ‘level of urgency’

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Can you believe in first-place Mariners? 3 stats that say you can