To say the Mariners have had some adversity this season would be one of the biggest understatements of the century. It would be like saying the 2016 presidential election had some drama.
The Mariners starting rotation has been absolutely pulverized. Drew Smyly is yet to throw a pitch in a Seattle uniform. Felix Hernandez is on the DL for the second time this season and he has been a shell of himself most of the season. James Paxton continues to have little things nag at him and he has landed on the shelf for a second time. Yovani Gallardo has been on the border of terrible and “meh” (5.84 ERA, 48 walks, 19 home runs allowed). Hisashi Iwakuma has not pitched since May 3rd. The lone constant presence has been Ariel Miranda. However, he has not been sharp lately as he has gone 0-2 with an 8.22 ERA in August.
On top of this, Mariners rookie stand-out Mitch Haniger cannot stay healthy, only having played in 59 games this season. Kyle Seager, for much of the season, has not been himself (.248 average and 10 homers in 86 games of the first half). Mike Zunino continues to be, well, Mike Zunino (.225 average, 121 strikeouts to 25 walks).
Despite all of this, the Seattle Mariners are sniffing the second Wild Card spot. How is this possible? Any possible playoff run needs a few things. One, you got to have some good luck. The Mariners have had the fortune of a host of AL teams with underwhelming seasons. No one has run away with the Wild Card as a lot of teams are still in it. Second, there is a need for a few players to break out that you didn’t expect.
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Exhibit A: Ben Gamel. He has been hitting north of .300 for most of the season. This was after he hit .200 in 27 games for the M’s last season. Exhibit B: Nick Vincent out of the bullpen. In what has been a tumultuous season for the bullpen, Vincent has been the anchor. He is sixth on the team in WAR as a reliever, at 2.0. He has a 1.97 ERA in 53 games and has allowed just two home runs in 50 1/3 innings.
In the coming weeks, the Mariners will have a plethora of opportunities to take a playoff spot by the horns and hold on. They have 13 games remaining against teams within 3 1/2 games of a Wild Card spot. It is now or never. There is no more room for excuses.
Things are looking up. Haniger is back and had a monster Saturday which included a grand slam. Nelson Cruz is on a tear. The Mariners have played .500 ball on the road this season, which bodes well for this daunting road trip.
If they can get back to Safeco Field at the beginning of September against the lowly Athletics still in a playoff spot, it might be time to start believing.