On May 3rd, forty-seven games ago, I wrote that the Mariners were probably toast. They were 11-16, missing Felix Hernandez and Mitch Haniger, Edwin Diaz was a mess while still being their best bullpen arm, and the team did not (and still does not) have the talent resources on the farm to acquire help via trade.
Those things were true then, and I do not regret writing them. What is also true is that, despite losing Jean Segura (twice), Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, and doubtless a few others I’ve forgotten to injury the Mariners have managed to go 26-21 since, and after tonight’s 7-5 win over Justin Verlander and the Tigers, sit at 37-37.
Additionally, and crucial to the headline of this post, is that the American League has refused to run away from the Mariners while they spun their wheels and filled up punch cards at the local Group Health. While the Yankees and Red Sox are trading division leader/WC1, only the Twins and Rays sit a few games above .500 and the Mariners, and I am here to tell you despite their many flaws the Mariners major league roster is every bit as talented as those two teams.
It’s important to note that the Mariners are not by any stretch a lock or even a front runner for a playoff position at this point. Their Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds coming into today were 25.1%, somehow down from the 28.7% they were at when I condemned them to heck last month. They are still massively flawed, with little depth beyond the outfield, a bottom third (at best) major league rotation, and a bullpen that, while improved since April, is far from the league’s best.
This team, even if everyone stays healthy and Drew Smyly comes back and contributes at the levels expected in March, is not a team I would feel comfortable shooting for a playoff spot in most years. Only the AL’s parity and the benevolent gift of WC2 from His Holiness Allen Huber “Bud” Selig have given this team life. This is a confluence of good fortune, and one that does not come around often. With the 2nd Wild Card typically falling between 88-90 wins, likely a total well beyond this team’s capability, the possibility of only needing to win 85 games or so is as responsible as anything for the stay of their execution.
Still, the team deserves credit. They have not thrived, but they have survived. They have overcome their weaknesses, both built in and unexpectedly arisen. They have managed to build a roster and culture that has allowed Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, and Mitch Haniger to flourish, bringing the possibility of the most complete Mariner outfield in franchise history very much into focus. They have assembled, when healthy and when Mike Zunino has not been fed after midnight, as fearsome a 1-9 offense as there is in the American League.
Tomorrow, Andrew Moore makes his debut, and while I don’t believe he’s a budding star, I have little doubt he is better than many pitchers who have started games for the team this year. Friday, Felix Hernandez returns. A Paxton/Felix/Miranda/Moore/Gaviglio rotation is nowhere approximate to “good”, but if you’re optimistic and have had as much booze as I’ve had tonight you can squint and make it passable, particularly if your offense can casually score 6-7 runs any given night.
They are many things. They are unfinished, flawed, broken, old, exciting, tough, frustrating, confusing, persistent, and infuriating. But they are not, as I said most recently, toast.
On May 3rd I wrote this:
“To root for a team to overcome long odds is one of the most rewarding experiences we as fans can have.”
They have proved me wrong, by proving that correct.
To beating long odds, and the roar of the faithful when Nelson Cruz’s double found grass tonight.