Why Seattle Mariners should be eyeing a top-two seed in the AL

Jun 18, 2024, 2:12 PM | Updated: 9:02 pm

Seattle Mariners Luis Castillo Braves 2024...

Seattle Mariners ace Luis Castillo reacts during a game against the Braves on April 30. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

In many ways, this past weekend felt a bit like a playoff series for the Seattle Mariners.

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The stakes were massive, with the defending World Series champion Texas Rangers coming to town for a pivotal three-game set that could factor significantly into the American League West race. T-Mobile Park was packed for all three games, with more than 130,000 fans bringing energy and noise all weekend long. And the Mariners themselves treated it like a playoff situation, adjusting their rotation so that their top three starting pitchers would take the mound.

It all coalesced into a pivotal three-game sweep for Seattle, which improved to 43-31 and now holds a commanding nine-game lead atop the AL West – its largest division lead since the record-setting 2001 season. Luis Castillo, George Kirby and Logan Gilbert were dominant once again within the pitcher-friendly confines of T-Mobile Park, yielding just two earned runs combined in 20 innings against Texas’ dangerous lineup. It marked the ninth consecutive series win at home for Seattle, which improved to 27-12 at T-Mobile Park this season.

“I think what this past weekend showed is how good the Mariners can be in a playoff-like environment, when you can line up your rotation (and) you pack the house,” fill-in host Mike Lefko said Tuesday on Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk.

As this past weekend showed, the Mariners’ elite starting pitching and true home-field advantage give them a very real recipe for October success. And in order to fully maximize those two facets, they should be striving not only for the AL West crown, but also for one of the top two seeds in the American League.

Under the new MLB playoff format that debuted in 2022, the top two division winners in the AL receive first-round byes. That means those two teams bypass the wild-card round and head straight to the AL Division Series, where they would enjoy the benefits of home-field advantage and several extra days of rest to line up their rotation.

Meanwhile, the third-best division winner receives the No. 3 seed and has to play in the wild-card round. And if the No. 3 seed wins its wild-card series, it advances to face the No. 2 seed in the ALDS. In the ALDS, the No. 3 seed would have neither home-field advantage nor the ability to align its rotation.

In other words, there’s a major difference between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds.

So, how does all of that impact the Mariners?

If the playoffs began today, Seattle would be the No. 3 seed. The Mariners are 3.5 games behind the AL Central-leading Cleveland Guardians (who would be the No. 2 seed) and seven games behind the AL East-leading New York Yankees (who would be the No. 1 seed). The Baltimore Orioles are also a major threat to win the AL East, sitting just 1.5 games behind the Yankees.

It might be difficult for Seattle to catch whoever ends up winning the AL East, but the Guardians are certainly within reach. And the Mariners just so happen to be opening a three-game set against the Guardians in Cleveland this afternoon. There’s a long way to go, but this series could certainly end up playing a pivotal role in the battle for that No. 2 seed and all the perks that come with it.

At the moment, the Mariners currently have an 80.2% chance of winning the AL West and a 29.3% chance of claiming a top-two seed in the American League, according to FanGraphs.

“This is important, because remember, we’re not talking about just getting to the playoffs this year,” Brock Huard said. “Some of that narrative has changed. … This is not just about, ‘Hey man, let’s win the American League West.’ Let’s go be the No. 2 seed. Let’s get that first-round bye in those playoffs.

“The way this thing is going right now and the way that you are pitching and the way you are playing, I hope the expectations start to change a little bit,” he added. “This isn’t just about getting to the playoffs. This is about being a World Series contender.”

Listen to the full conversation on Brock and Salk at this link or in the audio player near the top of this story.

More on the Seattle Mariners

• Passan: Why Mariners’ nine-game lead is ‘kind of wild’
• Mariners DFA catcher Zavala in move that has interesting ramifications
• What’s behind Mariners’ drastic home success and road struggles?
• What stat says the most about Mariners’ incredible starting rotation?
• ESPN’s Schoenfield on where Seattle Mariners sit: ‘The momentum is there’

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