2018 Mariners: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times
It's the final day of the regular season, and shockingly two details remain unironed: Who wins the NL West (Dodgers or Rockies?) and who wins the NL Central (Cubs or Brewers)? Meaning we‘ll get not one but two Game 163s tomorrow. Free baseball!
As for who won’t be continuing? For the 17th season in a row? Yeah, our Seattle Mariners. As was indicated by the crowd at Safeco Field on a lovely night last Thursday:
I‘ve never seen our section that empty.
If the fans didn’t show, neither did the Ms. Facing a bunch of Texas pitchers with ERAs over 6.00, we managed three hits:
- a single in the 2nd by Vogelbach (stranded at 1st)
- a single in the 6th by Gamel (erased on a DP)
- a single by Haniger in the 9th (stranded at 1st)
The closest we got to scoring was a two-out, two-base error on a grounder by Haniger in the 6th (after the DP). We never made it to 3rd base. Without errors, we never made it to 2nd base. Final: 2-zip, Texas. No bangs, barely a whimper.
That said, it wasn't a bad year. It was the lesser version of those classic ‘90s M’s ads: You gotta like these guys. And I did. We had personality. We had fun. Think Dee Gordon's Griffeyesque homerun on a chilly April, and Big Maple remaining zen-calm as an American Eagle landed on his shoulder during pregames in Minnesota. Then that May he had: striking out 16 A's in one start and pitching a no-hitter against Toronto in his native Canada in the next. Albert Pujols got his 3,000 hit at Safeco for the visiting Angels. Ichiro retired but gave us a final great defensive play, then stayed on as a good will ambassador and even joked around with new superstar Shohei Ohtani. In May, I took a friend from Australia to see her first baseball game, and in June a friend from China. Through it all, the M's kept winning. Edwin Diaz kept mowing ‘em down.
Those were the best of times. But there were worst-of-times intimations. Since 2014, King Felix’s crown has been slipping. Here are his ERAs, year by year: 2.14, 3.53, 3.82, and last year, 4.36. This year's 5.55—one off the mark of the devil—got him exiled to the bullpen for a period. Robinson Cano started off hot, but in the off-season he'd tested positive for PEDs (or a banned diuretic that rids the body of evidence of PEDs), and eventually he took his punishment: We lost him for half the season. Plus our run differential remained in negative territory. I had a conversation with my friend Jim in June or July, hashing this out. He was saying, “I don't like it, it's not going to last.” I was saying, “I didn't expect it, so this is a gift.” Both of us were right. He was righter.
On July 3, after beating the Angels 4-1 at Safeco, the M's were 55-31, 24 games over .500 and just 1/2 game back of the division-leading Houston Astros. They were the second, solid team in the wild-card hunt. Our long, local, postseasonless nightmare seemed over, possibly.
Since? 34-42. In the second half, we did well against the Astros (8-5), and held our own against the hard-charging A's (4-6) but got killed by, of all teams, NL West teams: 1-5 against Colorado and 0-4 against San Diego. We dropped 3 of 4 to Toronto. Overall, we were 6-14 against NL teams. Reverse those numbers, do better than 1-5 against the Yankees, and I'd be shelling out for playoff tickets.
Our best played by WAR was Mitch Haniger (6.0), followed by Jean Segura (4.2). You know who was third? Believe it or not, Cano (3.2), who missed 80 games. There's a problem right there. Fourth was Diaz (3.2), our closer, who was probably the most dominant player at his position in Major League Baseball. Nice to have one of those.
M's final mark was 89-73. Normally, that's enough to get you in. Next year. Again.