The Mariners won, again. The Mariners swept a team, again. The Mariners hit a walk-off, again! Taijuan Walker played hero through 5 innings today and then was touched up on a Corey Dickerson dinger that just so happened to be a grand salami. Quite unfortunate because Walker was electric on the day and was cruising up until that point. Thankfully for Christopher Domenic Iannetta, the Mariners were able to close out a mostly nice outing for Walker and Co.
From a very subjective standpoint, these Mariners feel different. From an objective standpoint, these Mariners are different. Like, literally. There are different players on the Mariners. Thank God! In many ways, these M’s are more balanced and more complete. For this reason, when some players aren’t performing, there are other players to pick them up. For the first time in years, the offensive side hasn’t needed picking up.
Ranked 14th in offensive WAR, and 13th in OPS, the Mariners are about middle of the road. Middle of the road offense combined with 4th ranked team ERA and 6th ranked team xFIP is going to win you some games. (If you’re unfamiliar with xFIP, it is a statistic that estimates a pitcher’s run prevention isolated from the performance of their defense. What xFIP does is rather reliably predict ERA, as they are both on the same scale.) In the same vein, to the untrained eye, the Mariners seem to be solid defensively.
These Mariners are very good, and they are very real. While they may not be spectacular, they are the current projected winners of the AL West. The projections have changed to adjust for these not-mediocre Mariners, and what has happened is they have passed up the Astros in projected wins (via FanGraphs).
Let’s play a fun game and assume that the Mariners will make the playoffs. This is not yet a safe assumption, but at the moment it’s the best assumption we have, going off of the numbers. (Doesn’t that sound and feel nice?) We are currently projected to win 88 games over the projected-second-place Astros, and we have 64.0% odds postseason odds as opposed to the next best AL West team, the Astros, who have 32.3% playoff odds. Whether because of the surging Mariners or because of the plodding division, it doesn’t matter! Anyways, back to our playoff assumption.
Billy Beane has said that once he gets his team to the playoffs, that’s all he can do. He can’t control whether the pitchers he’s traded for at the trade deadline wets the bed, and he can’t control whether his ace just so happens to have a couple bad games that all but lose his team the series. It’s happened to his teams more than it should. Often they’ve been favorites to win the World Series, and often they haven’t won the world series. You just have to make the playoffs.
This all plays well for the Mariners. We have a very imperfect team. We’re a very fun team, but we have flaws, and flaws are okay! We’ve made the playoffs! Er, well, we’ve made the FanGraphs-projected-to-make-the-playoffs playoffs. We’re imperfect. We’re not juggernauts. BUT – we’re more balanced and more complete. Jerry Dipoto was hired not only because of his keen foresight and baseball analytics acumen, but because he thinks we can win right now. We don’t have to spend more than half a decade waiting for the Cano and Cruz contracts to expire while rebuilding. He came in and immediately filled holes and booted the bums.
In a seven game series, you feel good about running out Felix-Kuma-Miley-Karns-Walker and then maybe Felix again. If any of the five get injured, we have options! James Paxton is a more-than-solid option, and Vidal Nuno and Mike Montgomery have shown they can start. Felix has struggled, but his velocity has came back, and he’s Felix. He’ll be fine. Kuma and Miley will continue to eat up innings and Karns and Walker will continue to show why they were, and are, touted young players.
There are not any weak spots in the lineup. Robinson Cano has been on a tear and doesn’t look to be stopping anytime soon (his BABIP is .286!). Aoki, Seager, and Lind have slumped thus far, and the latter two will more than likely turn it around. (I will note that despite an extremely low average and low OBP, Seager has still managed a 123 wRC+, which means he’s hitting 23% above league average. For reference, Nelson Cruz has a 135 wRC+, so 35% above league average.) When Cano struggles against Archer, Cruz is there to pick him up. When anyone struggles, Cano is there to pick them up, place them in his figurative backpack, and carry them on his back (and hopefully he’ll continue to for the entire season!).
One of the biggest reasons why the Mariners have been the Mariners is that a bullpen that is missing Joaquin Benoit, Charlie Furbish, Evan Scribner, Tony Zych, and Ryan Cook has THRIVED in their absences. To date, the Mariners are: 4th in bullpen WAR, number one in bullpen ERA, and 5th in bullpen xFIP. This means that the bullpen is pitching well, and the Mariners should continue to pitch well. Jerry Dipoto may have found a steal in closer Steve Cishek, and the rest of the bullpen has thrived under adversity. They have really done an admirable job. Relievers are known to be volatile, and they’re known to be unpredictable. What our relievers have done is somewhat unpredictably been one of the premier bullpens in the league.
There are couple things we need to do. Cishek needs to be solid, Marte needs to hit well, Martin needs to not be a disaster offensively, and Lind needs to pick his sh*t up. We need to stay healthy, obviously… Otherwise, the Mariners are good and they’re here to stay. Props to Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais in showing that Lloyd McClendon and Jack Zduriencik were bad at their jobs, all while showing they’re good at their own jobs.
As it stands, we should be a force to be reckoned with. If we’re playing as well as we are now come trade deadline time, we might become better by way of trade. We are currently built to be confident that we can win a seven game series against anyone. We’re also confident in throwing Felix out there and winning a one-game playoff, should snagging the second wildcard spot becomes our only option. At the end of the day, we’re legitimate, and we’re fun. We don’t quit. Go Mariners.
(We miss you, Dustin Ackley.)
(Okay, I miss you, Dustin Ackley.)