Mariners Must Capitalize on their Small Window for Success

The Seattle Mariners are one of the bigger stories in Major League Baseball this season. At the same time, they’ve lost 15 of their last 22 games, are in third place in the American League West, and if the playoffs were to begin today, the Mariners wouldn’t be competing for a berth in the World Series — which would be hard to fathom given their 56-32 start to the season. And on a more alarming note, the Mariners have to capitalize on their window for success given that it is one that will close soon.

When you look at the Mariners roster, the talent is there, but they haven’t been great in any particular facet of their ballclub this season. Despite the likes of All-Stars Jean SeguraNelson Cruz, and Mitch Haniger as well as Dee Gordon and Kyle Seager, among others, being in their starting lineup, the Mariners went into Friday night 22nd in the majors in runs scored (455). Simultaneously, they went into Friday night 10th in hits (943) and eighth in team batting average (.256). The Mariners are putting runners on base, they’re just not getting them to cross home plate. Concurrently, their pitching staff has shined on occasion, but they too have been in the middle of the pack amongst other teams.

James Paxton is the ace of the Mariners starting staff, but he’s been inconsistent as of late, and veteran righty Felix Hernandez has been unable to rekindle any of his past heroics. Lefties Marco Gonzales and Wade LeBlanc have come into their own as reliable middle to top-of-the-rotation arms, but the Mariners, as a whole, went into Friday night 17th in team ERA (4.06) and 16th in opponent batting average (.251). They were also just 14th in bullpen ERA (3.90), even with closer Edwin Diaz locking down the ninth inning as well, if not better than any other closer in the game (Diaz has executed 40-43 save opportunities and owns a 2.04 ERA and 0.79 WHIP this season).

So with their production at the plate and on the rubber being less than stellar, how are the Mariners winning games? The answer is simply that they’re a situational-savvy team. They’ve won 27 games by one run, and their deep roster helps them thrive in that element of the game. They knock in runners and get the big out when they have to. Their success in crucial moments is remarkable, and if they can carry that decisive play into the postseason, they could compete with anyone in the American League. The problem the Mariners have going for them is that they’re in the midst of a slump and are now out of the playoffs because of it.

Despite a recent stumble, the @Mariners need to capitalize on their small window for success and make something happen down the stretch.Click To Tweet

The team that stands in the Mariners’ way when it comes to playing in the AL Wild Card Game is the Oakland Athletics — who are 1.5 games ahead of the Mariners. Three months ago, the A’s were below .500, but then they got on a tear and now they’re a real threat to make their first playoff appearance since 2014. Their lineup doesn’t have any bonafide stars, but they do have a healthy mix of youth and veteran bats. The grouping of Jed Lowrie, Jonathan Lucroy, Marcus Semien, Stephen Piscotty, Khris Davis, Matt Olson, and Matt Chapman went into Friday night 7th in runs scored (529) and ninth in hits (947). They also have one of the best bullpens in the game headlined by All-Star closer Blake Treinen and a rotation which hasn’t come into its own.

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The A’s core is only going to improve down the road and potentially over the next two months, and they are finding success with an underwhelming starting rotation. That aspect of their team can only improve with time, whether it be internally or from outside acquisitions.

The Mariners are a win-now team. Sure, there are some improving players on their roster and Robinson Cano’s return from an 80-game PED suspension is looming, but the Mariners forecast to be the third best team in the division for the foreseeable future behind the Houston Astros and A’s. The Astros are poised to win the AL West for a second consecutive season and have the most complete team in the division. The A’s have some young bats and a simple upgrade or two in their rotation will take their team to the next level.

It’s not to say that the Mariners can’t pose a legitimate playoff threat past this season, but they aren’t as talented as other AL teams, in terms of established and progressing talent. Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has made 70 trades in three years on the job (yes, 70 trades), and their farm system has taken a hit as a result of his aggressive mentality; it’s the ultimate casualty of that approach.

The Mariners aren’t going to catch the Astros for the division, nor are they likely to surpass the New York Yankees in the Wild Card standings for home-field advantage. But, at the end of the day, the Mariners’ ceiling, in terms of playoff seeding, is likely traveling to the East Coast to take on the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game. At the same time, it’s a one-game playoff; anything can happen no matter who is playing at what location.

Last season, the Yankees were down 3-0 in the first inning of the AL Wild Card Game against the Minnesota Twins, and they had to pull their ace, Luis Severino, from the game because he was struggling to get batters out. Will history repeat itself in the Wild Card Game this season? An implosion of such magnitude for a second consecutive season by the hard-throwing righty is hard to envision, but the bottom line is that it’s essentially a Game 7, and if the Mariners aren’t at least a participant in that game, their season will be an immense failure based on how well it began.

If the Mariners were in the National League, they’d be the number two seed in the playoffs and would have some arguing for them being a frontrunner to win the Pennant. But they’re in an American League that features four powerhouse ballclubs (Boston Red Sox, Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Astros) and another team who is on their level within the AL West (the A’s). The window for success is small, and the Mariners have to strike while the iron is hot; they’re built to win now, not for the next three-to-five years.

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