122 games in, 40 to go. 3 games back of the A’s for the 2nd wild card spot, and 4 back of the Yankees for the first. Forget the wild card though, the Mariners are only 5.5 back of the Astros in the West. Who would’ve thought this team would be in this spot?
The Mariners have a nearly identical record to the Padres which just feels unfathomable. On May 31st of this season, the Mariners trotted out an actual professional baseball lineup that consisted of Jose Godoy, Jacob Nottingham, and Donovan Walton. Regardless of that here we are, back in the thick of it, back on the outside looking in with enough hope that it feels like it just about might happen.
How it happens is a different story though, and I intend to explore some realistic pathways to the playoffs that could be the key to breaking the playoff drought. From a collapse of a divisional rival to the AL East collectively beating each other down, to the absurd, the scenarios will be broken down into three sections based on how likely they are.
This Won’t Happen, Don’t Think About It:
Mariners Win the AL West:
No chance, folks. If we’re watching playoff baseball this year, we’ll be watching the Wild Card round. With arguably the best bullpen in the league though, as well as the lowest starting pitching ERA in the AL throughout August, that might play to the Mariners’ favor. FanGraphs playoff odds currently put the M’s chances of a divisional title at 0.9%, meaning that in all 10,000 simulations run from today’s date to the conclusion of the 2021 MLB regular season, the Mariners won the division in only 85 to 94 of them.
With roughly a month and a half of the season remaining, 5.5 games is no small hill to climb. What doesn’t help in this case is the weak remaining strength of schedule for the Astros. The opponents of their last 41 games have a combined win percentage of .488, highlighted by remaining series against both the Royals and Diamondbacks at home.
However, if the Mariners hope to shock the world and win the division, they don’t need to explicitly rely on outside help, as 9 remaining matchups between the Mariners and the Astros remain on the schedule, including the series beginning today.
AL East Fumbles The Bag:
I hate to say it, but if you’re a Mariners fan, your second favorite team for these next 40 or so games is the much-loathed New York Yankees. For the Mariners to gain any ground in the postseason race, not only do they have to gain on the teams in possession of the current WC spots (NYY, OAK) they also need to distance themselves from those surrounding them in the standings, most notably Toronto and Boston.
Do you know who plays Oakland, Toronto, and Boston a collective 14 times over these last weeks? That’s right, those big fellas in the pinstripes. The upcoming Yankees-A’s series is ridiculously important to the Mariners, and a clean sweep or even 3-1 series win by the Yankees would serve the Mariners a much-needed opportunity to gain ground.
Heck, if the Yankees were to overtake the Rays in the standings I don’t see why that would be too bad of a thing. One game playoff against the Rays? Based on prior results of this season, count me in. The AL East’s triumvirate of potential 2nd place teams are bound to produce at least one playoff team, especially due to the terrible remaining strength of schedule (Thanks, Baltimore) and the Mariners need it to be the Yankees or the Rays.
You Know What? I Could See It:
Nobody Flops, but Mariners Get Hot:
Who said the Mariners needed help? Forget a bad stretch from some other team, what if instead the Mariners go 28-12 or somewhere in that general area over the last 40 games? Not only would 94 wins almost assuredly be enough to make the playoffs, but a scorching hot end to the season would lend itself to perhaps continued success in the postseason.
The Mariners sit 14th in the league when it comes to strength of the remaining schedule, with the future opponents combining for a .503 winning percentage. 13 games against the Diamondbacks and Royals is promising, and an additional 6 against the Los Angeles Shohei Ohtani’s & Company could be viewed as extremely winnable games. The rest of the schedule finds itself to be less appealing though, with 9 games against Oakland (only 3 at home), 9 with Houston, and 3 against Boston at home.
The Mariners are significantly better at home, and if this situation were to manifest itself into reality, their road record would need to make a break towards the .500 mark. For this to happen, the most realistic approach (realistic is a stretch) would look like a 14-5 mark against the Angels/Diamondbacks/Royals, and a 12-9 mark against Oakland/Houston/Boston.
That leaves the Mariners with that 26-14 record over the last 40, and a 94-68 record on the season. Sounds like an aggressively optimistic, but possible recipe for success to me.
This Is Potentially Possible:
Athletics cheer on Mariners From Their Couches:
If this is the year that the Mariners make the playoffs for the first time since the year I was born, it’s going to be in part because the Athletics falter down the final stretch. Sure, the Mariners could get super hot. The AL East could devour each other, but significantly unlikely.
Do you know who has the toughest remaining schedule in the MLB? The Padres (their schedule is terrifying and the Padres aren’t making the playoffs, you read it here first) but right after them? The Athletics. Their last four series of the year are against the Mariners and the Astros. They still have to play the Yankees, and they have another series against the Giants. Don’t forget the White Sox or Toronto either, and you’re looking at a remarkable THIRTY-ONE of their last 40 games against competition above .500.
They’re not exactly hot at the moment either, as they come into tonight’s series against the Giants fresh off a 3-1 series loss against the White Sox, and a series loss to the Rangers before that. With the suspension of Ramon Laureano, the terrifying injury to Chris Bassitt, and the looming potential of a move out of the Bay Area, the recipe for disaster is there.
We’re at the point in the year where scoreboard watching will become a way of life. If there’s any team you want to keep track of, I’d point to turning on notifications for the A’s as the best decision for an extra injection of stress into your day-to-day lives. If you’re a Twitter user, give @MsplayoffHope a follow, and keep saying your baseball-related prayers, folks.