The 2015 AL West was supposed to be a doozy of a division. The Oakland Athletics re-tooled over the offseason and came out of it looking no worse, if not significantly different. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were a good team with the very best player coming off a very successful (regular) season. The Texas Rangers were positioned for a bounceback. The Houston Astros were… improving. And the Seattle Mariners looked like the team to beat in the American League.
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Clearly it hasn’t worked out that way. The Astros, of all teams, have been the class of the division basically since the get-go, and their only serious competition has been an Angels team that’s spent most of the season playing well below their talent level (as they tend to do). The Rangers have had their moments, but ultimately don’t look very good even with Cole Hamels in their rotation. The A’s have spent almost the entire season in last place. And the Mariners are the disaster we’ve watched the closest.
With the Mariners’ play recently elevating from “bad” to “satisfyingly mediocre,” we’ve started to once again entertain playoff notions. Not because they’re very likely, or really at any risk of manifesting. It’s hardly the Mariners’ fault. What we’re seeing is the M’s treading water while the teams in front of (and behind) them start to falter.
Houston had a commanding record for most of the year, playing as one of the premier teams in a whitewashed league where mediocrity was suddenly the new standard. But they’ve been playing worse of late and are now only eight games over .500. They’ve still somehow got the league’s fourth-best record, which is just a testament to the current state of the American League. But it also means they’re more vulnerable than they have been since April.
A game behind the ‘Stros is the Halos, who have been playing some fantastically mediocre baseball themselves recently. Neither of them has been playing like the playoff teams they currently project as, and the third-place Rangers have been the picture of mediocrity themselves. The A’s traded their best player at the deadline and still stink. The division, much like the league as a whole, isn’t at all what it was expected to be, and it’s getting weaker as the season goes on.
Which brings us back to the Mariners. We’ve looked at this page before, but let’s check it out again because it’s constantly updating. This is the page that used to tell us that the Mariners were expected to be the West’s best team for the 2015 season, and still had the M’s as the division’s best up until the trade deadline. The Angels and Astros made themselves better, and now out-project the Mariners. Looking for ways for Seattle to make a sneaky-late push? The projected standings aren’t really helping us stay optimistic anymore.
The M’s still project better than the Rangers, and the gap between the two teams is only 3.5 games. The Mariners can easily pass Texas, who’s been a little worse than their projections as of late (and might be losing Hamels to the DL). At that point all that stands between Seattle and the playoffs is… two teams that have been leaps better than them all year. Still not looking so good.
But those teams might suck! The Angels and Astros both look to be varying degrees of over their heads right now. The facade might be just about up, and if one (or both) of these teams starts to stumble badly then the M’s won’t even need to win 21 games in a row or anything like that. The gap is already starting to shrink, and with each Seattle win and Anaheim/Houston loss the idea of a miracle push becomes a little less miraculous.
The idea of the Mariners still being in it has everything to do with doubting the strength of the two clubs in front of them. The Mariners probably aren’t still in it, but this is a division that doesn’t look like it has any great teams. The two good teams aren’t playing particularly well right now, and the M’s might conceivably have a hot streak left in them. There’s something to go off of here, and it’s not an unthinkable longshot.
Seattle was supposed to be out in front of a strong AL West by now. Instead, they’re in fourth place in a crappy AL West, but there’s still time for things to change. They’ve got six-ish weeks to make up an eight-game, three team deficit. Crazier things have happened, and the weakness of the division as a whole should only aid the M’s pursuit. Will it work out for them? No, probably not. But if they catch fire, it might be easier to rise to the top than we’d have thought a couple weeks ago.