The Mariners are 60-40 after 100 games, and they have a 2.5-game lead on the Oakland Athletics for the second Wild Card spot. And yet, Baseball Prospectus’s adjusted playoff odds only give them a 25.7% chance of ending their 17-year playoff drought. See if you can point out the Mariners from the three teams below.
Team A: 414 Runs Scored, 394 Runs Allowed, .525 Pythagorean Winning Percentage
Team B: 423 Runs Scored, 422 Runs Allowed, .500 Pythagorean Winning Percentage
Team C: 512 Runs Scored, 421 Runs Allowed, .597 Pythagorean Winning Percentage
If you’ve been paying attention, this should be rather easy. Seattle’s flukiness has been well-documented.
Seattle is Team B, the team with the worst expected record of the three. Team A is the Tampa Bay Rays, who currently have a 50-49 record and are effectively out of playoff contention. Team C is Cleveland, who have a 54-44 record, six games worse than the Mariners.
With just over two months left in the regular season, and no other competition for the Wild Card aside from the A’s, the Mariners are still in a good position to make it to October. Unfortunately for them, their luck is running out.
In July, the Mariners are 7-9 and they’ve been outscored 51-71. They could still consider themselves lucky their record isn’t worse than that. They’ve scored the fewest runs of any team this month, and that’s even after scoring eight on Sunday. The Rangers are the next closest team at 57 runs. As a team, the Mariners are hitting just .232/.290/.354 for an 80 wRC+ in July.
As Ben Lindbergh pointed out, the Mariners were doing so well because they had several players over-performing their projections. Lately, they’ve had guys under-performing. It’s Gambler’s fallacy to suppose that just because they had guys playing over their heads they would suddenly crater, but that’s what’s happening lately.
Most of the players they’ve counted on during Robinson Canó’s suspension have gone into deep slumps. Final Vote All-Star, Jean Segura has been in free fall for the last month. After a hot June, Nelson Cruz is just 8-for-42 with a solo home run as his sole extra base hit. Ryon Healy has hit for power, but not much else.
It’s unlikely the Mariners will continue to be the very worst offense in the majors, but it’s also unlikely for the Mariners to continue their previous success. Their 26-12 record in one-run games is unsustainable, and they can’t keep playing .600 baseball if they don’t outscore their opponents.
The Mariners have the third toughest strength of schedule behind the Orioles and the Rockies. Seattle still has a series against the Yankees whom they were swept by earlier in the year. They also have series against the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks. They also play Houston 13 more times, and the defending champs are arguably the best team in the majors. Oakland also has a much softer schedule as they’ve already completed their interleague games.
The good news is that they play the A’s 10 more times, so they can control their own destiny. Their recent struggles, and the A’s recent hot streak, means the Mariners have ceded a fair bit of ground in the Wild Card race, but the Mariners still have a 2.5 game advantage. As long as the Mariners can hang around .500 against everyone else and they play well against Oakland, they ought to be able to hang on.
Fortunately, they rode their hot streak long enough that they would have to go into an absolute free fall not to end with a decent record. If they went .500 for the rest of the year, they would end up with 91 wins, which should be good enough to stave off the A’s.
They can also make themselves better. Jerry Dipoto hasn’t made a move since getting Denard Span and Alex Colomé from the Rays, and it would be highly uncharacteristic of him to not add. Securing a better starter would help alleviate the stress on the offense, and possibly bring their rotation out of the middle of the pack. However, they do it, adding another 2-3 wins on the trade market should help them maintain distance on Oakland.
The next few weeks will be critical for Seattle because they’ll need to decide who to add, and they need to get their offense on track. Otherwise, all the work they’ve done in the beginning of the season will be wasted. Considering how long it’s been since the Mariners were in the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine a more painful collapse.