This is going to be an exercsie rich in indulgence. You probably could have guessed that based on the M’s current position in the standings, but know that in writing this post I am not simply scratching the miracle itch. There’s something to this. I swear there’s something to this.
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The American League has been tight all year, and to this day that remains the case. Even as the buyers start buying and the sellers start selling, the clubs with the AL’s worst record (Oakland and Boston) are only nine games out of a playoff spot. Trading season has begun, if only because it basically had to. Look at the standings and you might be compelled to say that nobody is truly out of it, and that’s not entirely untrue.
Things get even murkier when you look at FanGraphs’ playoff odds, which uses a team’s actual performance, preseason projections, and current depth chart to calculate the chances each team has of making the playoffs. It’s a rather thorough and useful tool, and it does a good job of reminding us that there’s more to the game than what’s right in front of our eyes. There’s more to being “good” than having a good record, though that’ll certainly take a team quite some ways.
Anyways. New York, Kansas City, Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Houston are all currently in playoff position. Among the three division leaders and the Astros, nobody’s got playoff odds lower than 78.8%. But the Twins are all the way down at 18.3%, with only a 16.8% chance of capturing the second wild card. There are four other teams with at least 10% odds of making the postseason: Toronto, Baltimore, Detroit, and Seattle.
Seattle? Seattle! The Mariners are eight games under .500 and have a 10.8% chance of making the postseason. 9.4% chance of playing in the wild card game. How? Because they were preseason darlings, and in hindsight FanGraphs stands by the idea that this team ought to have been pretty good. The odds – based solely on their season-to-date numbers – are 1.9%. If you buy that the M’s have a one in ten shot at making the playoffs, then you buy that this team is better than they’ve been so far.
The rest-of-season projections have the Mariners winning at a .523 clip, which would put them… six games below .500. But! The only wild card “contender” projected to be any better is the Blue Jays. The Mariners are expected to outplay the field, and that gives them a very real advantage in climbing out of their current seven-game, seven-team hole.
So what needs to happen for the M’s to make the playoffs? Easy: they need to outplay the projections AND the field. Toronto needs to take a step back, most importantly, and Minnesota/Houston need to come back to earth. All it takes is a ten-game winning streak and the Mariners will be exceptionally well-positioned. Even eight would do just fine – the Blue Jays, after all, are a .500 team right now and widely considered a favorite to leapfrom into playoff position.
Winning streaks have eluded the Mariners all season long. They’re rather famously hard-pressed to win so much as two games in a row. But if they were to rattle off a streak, they’d be there. That’s all they’d need, and then they could just rely on talent the rest of the way. By talent, this team might be better than all of their competition. They’re just a winning streak (and an inevitable Troy Tulowitzki injury) away from being right there.
The Seattle Mariners can make the playoffs if they win a bunch of games really quickly, then continue to play like the team they were supposed to be all along. These things probably won’t happen, but they might. You might even put the odds of this happening at or near… 10.8%. Which is a long shot, but a lot better than a no-shot.