Every year, sports fans in the Pacific Northwest care about the Seattle Mariners. No matter how many hundreds of games the team may have lost over the last year or two, people will always be ready to support the team come April. It feels odd, then, to say that we’re used to not caring about the Mariners. But it’s true. And it has a lot to do with where we’re at in the calendar year.
It’s August. Almost mid-August, and we’re well into the time of the year when the Mariners are supposed to be lost in irrelevance. This is when teams like the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers are gearing up for the stretch run, readying themselves to rally for playoff position. But it’s 2014, it’s mid-August, and those clubs are focusing on swapping spare parts for far-off prospects. And the Mariners are hours away from their biggest game this decade.
One could argue that there has been exactly one series since the end of the 2003 season that had the same importance as the one that starts tonight: the August 2007 set against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Mariners went into that a surprise contender, and came out a dumpster fire. With the season’s destiny placed firmly in their own hands, the Mariners chose to wet the bed and roll around in it for a few weeks. They only now seem to have fully recovered from that embarrassment.
Don’t look now, but this current team is a lot better than the 2007 squad that seemed to surprise us with unexpected on a near-nightly basis. This is a real shut-down bullpen, not J.J. Putz and friends. This is Felix Hernandez, all-time great pitcher in the midst of an all-time great season, not Felix Hernandez, emerging young talent. There’s youth here, and upside. This team is outscoring it’s opponents. And, of course, the 2014 Blue Jays certainly aren’t the 2007 Angels. Hell, neither are the 2014 Royals. This team has a better shot than that team seven years ago did.
The games still have to be played, and they still have to be won. The Mariners aren’t in a position to simply back into a playoff spot – they’re going to have to claw, and they’re going to have to out-claw some closely-matched competition. The Jays have the big bats, the M’s have the big arms. Kansas City has their incredible defense and bullpen, which the Mariners will have to outplay the rest of the way. The Yankees have voodoo magic, and it’s always worth at least keeping an eye on the team who’s hanging around with nothing but voodoo magic. Nobody’s giving the Mariners a free pass here.
Felix Hernandez takes the mound in under two hours, and there’s a good chance this will be the most electric Safeco Field has felt in a long, long time. We’ve seen up close what it looks like when Seattle is home to a winner – the Seahawks and Sounders have given us that – but watching the city come alive to support a winning baseball team is something else. So turn your attention to the Seattle Mariners tonight. There’s a great chance it’s going to be something special.