Get your tickets now, because the Mariners are going to the playoffs this year. Let’s look on the bright side after a terrible June.
At the end of May, the Mariners were one of the best teams in the American League. They were ahead of even the Texas Rangers, who have since supplanted them as one of the best teams in the league, in the American League West, and it appeared that their new General Manager Jerry Dipoto and first-time manager Scott Servais had something going in Seattle.
Then Mariners ace Felix Hernandez got hurt, Nate Karns and Wade Miley forgot how to get hitters out, and an overtaxed pitching staff looked to warm bodies like Adrian Sampson and Wade LeBlanc for spot starts that rarely went well. Throughout the month of June (and at times in the first two weeks of July), it seemed that if a starting pitcher did well, the bullpen would blow it. If the offense scored five or six runs, the opposing team would find a way to score seven or eight. Things turned bad quickly, and before we knew it, our beloved Mariners, apples of our eyes, were sequestered in third place behind the dominant Rangers and the surging Houston Astros.
Before I get into why the Mariners will make the playoffs (it’s actually pretty simple), let’s take a look in the mirror to avoid drifting too far from reality. The Mariners simply aren’t as good as Houston or Texas. Both of these organizations have had smart general managers in place for years before Dipoto took over in Seattle, and the result is a wealth of young talent on both teams. The Rangers have dealt with more injuries again this year, but they have the depth to recover from them. The Astros have an MVP candidate backing a lineup filled with power and a dominating bullpen. There was just no way their pitching was going to tank all season long like it did in April and May.
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So, you ask, how will the Mariners still make the playoffs if they aren’t as good as Houston and Texas? Simple. Because they’re just good enough to edge someone like the Boston Red Sox or the Astros to take that second Wild Card spot. These teams are better, but not by much.
The Red Sox right now are tied with the Toronto Blue Jays for second in the AL East. They would play each other for the right to advance to the Divisional Series if the season ended today. (Can we please make the Wild Card game a three-game series?) According to Baseball Reference’s Simple Rating System (SRS), both of these teams are better than the Mariners. You can also bet that they will try to get better at the trade deadline, and they have the capital to pull off a major trade.
But the Mariners will be getting a much better addition to their team than either the Jays or the Sox can likely pull off: Felix Hernandez. He’s sitting on the Disabled List right now for only the second time in his career. His injury on June 1st cast him to the DL for his longest stint there ever in the big leagues. He’s been resting and waiting to get back out there and take control of this pitching staff again.
The Mariners, for all their struggles, have one of the best offenses in the American League. Dipoto doesn’t have much to trade away for a missing piece, but based on what he did last offseason, he’ll be looking for useful players to be had on the cheap who can contribute immediately.
The Mariners are currently seventh in the AL Wild Card race and have been hamstrung with injuries and uncommonly shoddy pitching in recent weeks. When King Felix returns and Dipoto and the ERAs of guys like Nate Karns and Wade Miley normalize to their normal, if unspectacular, levels, this is a team that can make it close down the stretch. Those Wild Card spots are up for grabs. Why not the M’s?