The 2014 Seattle Mariners Were Built For The Playoffs


The Kansas City Royals will be playing in the ALCS come Friday after just edging the Seattle Mariners to make the playoffs. Okay, so they just edged the Oakland Athletics, who edged the Mariners, but that’s not the point. The point is that the Royals came really, really close to not being in the playoffs at all. They made it in, won the wild card game, won the ALDS, and haven’t lost a playoff game since 1985. Their run has been breathtaking, in both unlikeliness and dominance.

One of the more compelling aspects of the Royals is that they don’t look like your typical dominant playoff monster. The Royals are winning with some serious aggression on the basepaths. They’ve been playing hard-to-believe defense and riding their steady starting pitching until they no longer have to, then turning things over to a world-class bullpen. The offense has been there, a little, but it’s mostly been everything else carrying them this far.

Sound like any other teams you know? The Mariners have an enviably deep rotation, one that from May on was seemingly overflowing with quality arms. Those guys have been their own bridge to the late innings, where one of the league’s best bullpens has been absolutely stifling. They play good defense, making their arms look even better. And they make up for below-average offense with sound fundamentals and aggressive baserunning.

The Mariners and the Royals aren’t perfectly comparable teams, but they’re not particularly dissimilar. In this postseason we’ve seen top-flight pitching get shelled, and for teams without elite bullpens that’s generally meant disaster. Not that it’s a good strategy to have quantity > quality in the rotation, just that quantity has proven invaluable.

Chris Young was certain not to make a Mariners playoff rotation this year, but imagine him on the roster as a multi-inning guy just in case James Paxton looks bad enough through three to warrant a short leash. Taijuan Walker already showed he could be that guy. Imagine him as that guy, in the playoffs, looking as good as he did in September. That’s not even fair.

Perhaps the two most buzzed-about Royals have been Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore, little-known speedsters who have been running all over the AL West big dogs en route to an ALCS date. Enter James Jones, who Kansas City basically found their own version of in Gore. Gore and Jones are the kind of guys who are made for the playoffs. One of them is there, and he’s doing exactly what you’d expect him to do. It’s been kind of nuts. And in Jones, the Mariners have that player.

Austin Jackson is fast. Dustin Ackley can run. Brad Miller and Chris Taylor are more than adept on the bases, and hey, remember that weird thing where Logan Morrison got really into swiping bags for a while there? I’ll remind you that the ALDS featured a stolen base by Billy Butler. Enter LoMo, who could have been the M’s version of the weirdo DH/corner guy one-time-only speed threat. These two teams, I tell ya.

Defensively, Seattle is not Kansas City. Both of these teams are good defensively, but only one is truly elite. That being said, the Royals haven’t needed otherworldly defensive plays, they’ve merely needed to catch the balls that are hard to catch. They’ve done that, and the Mariners can do that, too. Seattle does defense right enough that they would likely be feeling that boost in the postseason.

This year, the best bullpens in the American League belonged to Seattle and Kansas City. The value of elite relief is magnified in the postseason, where those arms are (in theory) asked to soak up more high-leverage innings as starters are asked (in theory) to only face the opponent’s lineup twice through. We’ve watched Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, Greg Holland and the gang shorten Royals games to six innings in length. Who’s to say that in an alternate universe it wouldn’t be Charlie Furbush, Danny Farquhar, and Fernando Rodney blowing through the best lineups in the game?

Around the trade deadline, a lot is said about building for the playoffs. That’s why the Tigers acquired David Price, and that’s why the Athletics got Jon Lester. The Orioles picked up Andrew Miller, and boy has he ever been a revelation. But some teams are built for playoff success from day one. The Seattle Mariners are one of those teams, and they were a game away from making it there. It’s a shame that they didn’t get a chance, because it’s easy to imagine how things would be going had they gotten there.