In seasons past, the Memorial Day Weekend would’ve signaled the symbolic arrival of summer and the point where the baseball season was getting ready to heat up. With a little over a third of the season in the rearview mirror, pennant races are usually beginning to come in to focus. If there is to be baseball this season, it probably won’t even begin until the July 4th holiday. But in simulated baseball, the Seattle Mariners find their virtual selves with a 33-23 record and in the thick of the pennant race, a half a game behind the Houston Astros in the American League West.
Several weeks ago, I wrote about how Baseball Reference is in the process of simulating the 2020 MLB season using the baseball management game Out of the Park (OOTP), a game that baseball fanatics can download and play themselves while waiting for the return of MLB.
At the time, the Mariners were 17-13 and a game out of first place in the AL West behind the Oakland A’s. Given previous seasons’ hot starts, including last season where the Mariners finished 68-94, it was not unreasonable to be skeptical. But so far, this virtual Mariners ballclub has hung in there.
If asking the hypothetical question that eternally bolsters fanbases across sports – “if the season ended today” – the AL playoff teams in OTTP World would be the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, and the Houston Astros as division winners; the Mariners as the first wild-card and the Minnesota Twins as the second wild card. Seattle would actually host a playoff game.
Highlights from the Hypothetical M’s
The surprising second baseman, Shed Long, leads the sim Mariners with 1.7 WAR. Long is hitting .286/.352/.527 with 14 HR, 42 R, and 38 RBI. Dan Vogelbach, serving as the Mariners primary DH, leads the team in HR with 15 despite a .229/.331/.450 slash line. Centerfielder Mallex Smith leads the majors in stolen bases with 28. His closest challenger is Adalberto Mondesi of the Kansas City Royals with 18. No player has stolen over 90 bases since Ricky Henderson stole 93 in 1988. Smith is on pace and it will be worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses.
On the mound, the Mariners have been taking care of business with a steady, if not spectacular, performance. Yusei Kikuchi leads the staff with 1.2 WAR. Kikuchi has started 11 games and pitched to a 5-2 record with a 3.30 ERA and leads the team in strikeouts with 64 in 73.2 innings. Carl Edwards, Jr. has been awesome out of the bullpen with a 1.86 ERA, 2 saves, and 4 holds. Taylor Guillbeau has been the primary closer with 8 saves.
Waiting on MLB
While fans of real MLB baseball wait on the MLBPA to work out a deal with the owners on logistics, safety, and compensation, there is Korean baseball (albeit pretty early in the morning), the Japanese Nippon League has announced a return date of June 19th, and there’s OOTP baseball at Baseball Reference. For Mariners’ fans, the sim may be the best yet.