The Seattle Mariners have low expectations. Their offense ranks below average in OPS+, SLG, and walks while ranking dead last in batting average. They’ve been no-hit twice. Their team president Kevin Mather went on an embarrassing rant about service time manipulation and paying interpreters, leaving him with no choice to resign. Yet, here we are. 55 and 48 and only two games out of the second wild card. What happened?
The path to Seattle’s success in the near future seemed to be through their young prospects. Jarred Kelenic, Kyle Lewis, and Evan White, among others, are the Mariners’ core of the future, but it’s been a rough go of it so far in their young careers. Kelenic and White’s OPS+ is 34… if you add them together. Meanwhile, Lewis has been mediocre at best in the follow-up to his Rookie of the Year campaign, slugging a paltry .392.
It’s not really the pitching staff pulling the weight either. Seattle’s pitching staff holds a 94 ERA+ to go along with a below-average WHIP and FIP. For what it’s worth, Yusei Kikuchi, Chris Flexen, and Logan Gilbert have had solid seasons and Kendall Graveman has been a lights-out closer. It’s just not enough and all of it combined gives the Mariners a -58 run differential. Rather, what this team lacks in skill, they more than make up for in luck.
The Seattle Mariners Have an Affair With Lady Luck
The Mariners have gotten really lucky so far. The team is 23-8 in one-run games, partly a product of the back end of their bullpen, but mostly due to some key moments. They also have eight walk-offs including two game-ending wild pitches against Oakland, the team they’re trailing for the second wild card. In high leverage situations, they have a collective slash line of .277/.350/.494 with 185 runs. Sometimes it’s clutch hitting. Sometimes, wins just come to them.
Jarred Kelenic scores on a wild pitch to secure the walk-off win for the Mariners and he gets covered in a whole bunch of stuff pic.twitter.com/1hmCLRLe5G— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) July 25, 2021
It’s how they’ve managed to defy a much less optimistic 46-56 Pythagorean W-L record. This team is magic. On any given day, they can sock a much better team in the mouth with a stunner victory. They don’t need a ton of hits when they can simply capitalize on the few opportunities they have. With men on base, the Mariners OPS+ jumps from 76 to 106(!), bringing them from anemic to above average. It goes up another ten points with men in scoring position. They’re also great at jumping the teams in their division. Against the AL West, the Mariners have gone 25-18, having winning records against everybody except for Houston.
This shouldn’t be sustainable. They can’t expect to be batting like 2017 Francisco Lindor every time runners are in scoring position forever. They can, however, use the window they’ve made as a building block for a wild card run this year.
Seattle’s Luck Can Translate Into Real Success
Seattle may have relied heavily on luck to get them this far, but the trade deadline marks an opportunity to parlay that lucky start into genuine success. It doesn’t just have to be a rental either. Whit Merrifield is signed through 2023 and the Mariners have shown interest in him recently. If they’re not in on pure rentals, they have options to improve in the now and the future.
Jerry Dipoto has sort of flipped the bird to the idea of the Mariners buying after selling off Graveman to the rival Astros. Not good, but not an entirely hopeless situation either. Seattle is only a game out of playoff contention and so long as he can stop infuriating his players and start making impactful, winning-oriented deals, they have a shot.
Seattle players are not happy with that Kendall Graveman trade 😳 pic.twitter.com/68NnNY9SDY— Fuzzy (@fuzzyfromyt) July 28, 2021
Despite not seeming like a contender on paper, the Mariners have played to a record that befits one. They can beat you on any given day with Lady Luck on their side and are closing in on Oakland for the second wild card. They are the embodiment of a wild card. Seattle is lucky, clutch, and by the end of the deadline, they might have what it takes to bump off their arch-rivals.