Tuesday September 21, 2021
It took me by surprise. Yesterday, I went on Baseball Reference's Seattle Mariners page because while it felt increasingly unlikely we'd make the playoffs this year (four games back of the second wild-card spot with two weeks to go) I was curious how many games we'd have to win to be the winningest M's team in the last whatever years: five, 10. Maybe since 2003? That could be a goal to shoot for. That could be something to root for.
Except that seems unlikely, too. Before last night's win over the A's, we were 80-69, which is nice, particularly since we have a -62 run differential. But I'd forgotten the 2018 team won 89 games, the 2016 team won 86 and the 2014 team nabbed 88. We'd also had winning seasons in 2009 and 2007. Now I could see us winning more than 86 games. But winning 90 would mean going 10-2 the rest of the way, with nothing rained out, and that's a tough ask. Hell, if we went 10-2 maybe we would make the postseason for the first time since 2001.
That's when I noticed the oddity. You could see it in the pythagorean win-loss column, which tracks what your record should be based on your run differential. Our 2021 season was below .500 because of that -62 number. But so was our recent 89-win season, when—and I'd forgotten this—we'd given up 34 more runs than we'd scored. Same with the 2009 season (-52 runs) and 2007 season (-27). That's what took me by surprise. The Mariners record since 2003 is horrible: just six winning seasons in 18 years, and no postseasons since 2001—the longest current postseason drought in professional sports. But it's actually worse. In those 18 seasons, we've only had two where we scored more runs than the opposition: 2014 (+80) and 2016 (+61). Since 2003, we've given up 1,129 more runs than we've scored.
Some might think: pythagorean schmythagorean. You go to see real wins, not would-be wins. It's what you do, not what you should do. And that's correct. In 2016, for example, our +61 run differential was way better than Texas' +8, but we still finished nine games back. They won 95 and went to the playoffs instead of us ... where they got swept by Toronto. Hell, the 1987 Minnesota Twins won it all despite a negative run differential. So what does it matter?
But it still matters. Those other guys scoring more than we do seeps in. You keep thinking: We shouldn't be here. I mean, six winning seasons out of 18 is really, really bad. So it's astonishing to find out we were just lucky to win that much.
And yet, I have to admit, part of the joy of this 2021 no-name team is that they keep winning. They get clobbered and come back. We look at that run differential, assume they'll start slipping, but they don't. They defy math. They won again last night to go 81-69 and ensure only the 15th .500 season in Mariners history, and, more importantly, put us only three games back of that second wild card spot. What did St. Tug say? You gotta believe.