My spine is tingling with hope, but also the nagging feeling of existential dread.
Such is the life of a Seattle Mariners fan.
Somehow, against all odds, this stupid, wonderful, terrible, amazing baseball team finds itself right in the thick of the playoff chase in the final week of the season.
A few weeks ago, on the Seahawks’ opening day, I posted on Facebook that the Mariners hoped to stay relevant until football season, but I didn’t realize they would take it so literally. On that day, Sept. 12, the Mariners lost at home to the league-worst Diamondbacks 5-4 while their Wild Card rival, the Toronto Blue Jays, curb-stomped the Baltimore Orioles.
They then followed that by losing two of three to another wild card rival, the Boston Red Sox, for back-to-back series losses that essentially kicked their teeth in.
That should have been it. Fun season everybody, pack it in. But the Mariners decided that if they didn’t get to have teeth, no one else did either.
Since an off day on Sept. 16, at which point their odds of making the playoffs stood at a shade over 1% according to Fangraphs, the Mariners have gone 11-2, including six wins over the Oakland Athletics. Their playoff odds have risen to 14%, and they were only half a game back in the wild card standings entering play Sept. 29.
Will they pull it off? It’s certainly improbable as they need to keep winning and need some help from teams above them. But everything this team has done has been improbable. Despite having holes all over their pitching staff, scoring what feels like a million fewer runs than their opponents, and dud trade acquisitions, they are still right there, with T-Mobile park rocking going into the final week of the season.
The team has been plugging holes on its roster all season, desperately making every square peg work. I mentioned the dud trade acquisitions-every outing for reliever Diego Castillo has been…an adventure, to put it kindly. After a hot start, second baseman Abraham Toro has largely been unable to hit or field, two things rather crucial for a second baseman. But starter Tyler Anderson, just two days after getting demolished by the Los Angeles Angels, came back on two days rest to help the team continue to torment the Athletics and throw four innings in a 4-2 win. He was pitching on short rest because the team lost all confidence in Yusei Kikuchi, an All-Star this season, to pitch effectively.
The bullpen, a collection of misfits and castoffs from other teams, threw five innings in that game to lock down the win. First baseman Ty France, playing out of position all season because the first option, Evan White, was bad and then hurt, is hitting near .300. Luis Torrens, acquired with France from San Diego last season in exchange for a utility infielder and an injured relief pitcher in what looks like the steal of the decade, has solidified a designated hitter spot the team desperately needed to be filled after France shifted to first base.
Jarred Kelenic at least appears to know what he is doing at the plate and in the field, and Mitch Haniger and Kyle Seager have a knack for responding to a brutal plate appearance by taking on their frustrations in the next at-bat by launching a ball deep into the outfield bleachers.
None of this should be working. It is all so incredibly stupid. Yet, here they are, daring to give their fans hope after two decades of mediocrity. We’ve seen flashes of this before, the dare to hope, only to once again see things come crashing down. Charlie Brown believed that every time Lucy held out the football, this would be the time he would actually get to kick it. And maybe once again, reality will come crashing down on this team’s head. But for now, the playoffs are still sitting there, a prize for the team to grab after their long torment. There’s still hope, and as long as there is still hope, I choose to believe.