Just 15 games remain in the MLB regular season as I write this on September 21st. If the season ended now, the Seattle Mariners would be playing postseason baseball. Playoff contention is not clinched just yet. In proper Mariners fashion, the season will likely come down to the line, with the lucky number 10 being something to look out for (Nine if Seattle wins on 9/21 against Oakland). The Mariners need just ten games to lock up their first playoff birth since the historic 2001 season. The road to get there looks very easy on paper, with many things going Seattle’s way.
The Mariners are finishing up a three-game series against the Oakland Athletics, who currently have the second-worst record in all of baseball. Seattle dropped game one of the series but looked to finish strong against the team with the lowest payroll in all of baseball. Following Oakland is a three-game trip to Kansas City, where the Royals are not much more of a threat with only 59 wins. The final ten games for the Mariners are all at home. Their opponents are, again, not teams who are trying to make a late-season push. The Rangers, Athletics, and Tigers will be the final three opponents for Seattle while simultaneously playing the part of spoiler.
Simply put, The Mariners need to take care of business and win the games they are supposed to. The lackluster series in Anaheim and the game one drop to Oakland is definitely not what Scott Servais had in mind as he looks to clinch the playoffs sooner rather than later. There are three main competitors that are honing in for the three wild card spots. The powerful AL East has the Blue Jays, Rays, and Orioles all in the hunt. As of September 20th, FanGraphs has the Mariners at a 99.7% chance of making the playoffs. With only 15 games left in the season, I will look at the remaining schedules for these wild card teams. What will need to happen for Seattle to end the longest active playoff drought in American sports? If they do clinch, what will be the best path for success in October?
Toronto Blue Jays 1st in AL Wild Card (84-64) +2.5
Games left: 14
One @ Philadelphia (80-67)
Four @ Tampa Bay (82-66)
Three vs. New York AL (89-58)
Three vs. Boston (72-75)
Three @ Baltimore (76-71)
The Blue Jays were in a very similar position to the Mariners a season ago. When the final game of the regular season ended, the two teams were just short of the wild card spots. Seattle was two games behind, while Toronto was just 1. Now, the teams are in the final hunt again, with the added third wild card position only intensifying the final push. The Blue Jays have a 2.5-game cushion on their first wild card spot. The position clinches an opening home series against the No. 2 wild card team. The road to clinching that spot, and the playoffs, is anything but easy. The Red Sox are the easiest opponent left on the schedule, and they are only three games off from being .500. Tampa Bay and Baltimore are very much in the Wild card mix and will be very tough to beat on the road. The Yankees will also be looking to secure their AL East title, with the Blue Jays series being extremely important in doing so.
Tampa Bay Rays 2nd in AL Wild Card (82-66) +0.5
Games left: 14
One vs. Houston (98-51)
Four vs. Toronto (84-64)
Three @ Cleveland (81-67)
Three @ Houston (98-51)
Three @ Boston (72-75)
The Rays have been among the more consistent teams in the postseason in recent years. A playoff birth in 2022 will make it four straight. Much like the rival Blue Jays, the road to get there is very tough. They wrap up their first of two September Houston series later today, who are undoubtedly the best team in the American League. The four-game series against Toronto will be the most significant in this wild card race as it will likely shape up the final seedings. The Rays also have nine games on the road to wrap up the regular season, and they have been much worse playing away from Tropicana Field. On the road, they hold a record of 33-39, and none of those final games will be easy matchups. The Rays’ Ace, Shane McClanahan, also left Tuesday’s contest with neck tightness and spasms after giving up five earned runs in four innings. His health will be crucial in this final stretch.
Seattle Mariners 3rd in AL Wild Card (81-66)
Games left: 15
Two @ Oakland (54-94)
Three @ Kansas City (59-89)
Three vs. Texas (63-84)
Three vs. Oakland (54-94)
Four vs. Detroit (57-91)
The Mariners need just ten games to clinch the playoffs. None of their remaining opponents present much of a challenge, but a win is never guaranteed, no matter who the opponent is. Seattle has a lot going for them. Finishing the regular season at home should easily bring the energy level to an all-time high. Fans in Seattle are desperately searching for the postseason, even more so with the recent struggles of the Seahawks. The Mariners also have had a lights-out rotation that can keep them in any game. The pitching success is more than necessary, given the recent injuries. Eugenio Suarez is on the IL, and it is unknown when he will be active. The rest of the lineup has had injuries here and there for most of the season, while their recent one-hit loss to Oakland can summarize the team’s recent batting slump. Seattle is very streaky and will need one more to get through this final stretch. The competing wild card teams have much tougher competition with many games against each other. Losses will be inevitable for at least one of those teams and will also benefit Seattle’s playoff hunt.
Baltimore Orioles Five games back in AL Wild Card Race (76-71)
Games left: 15
One vs. Detroit (57-91)
Four vs. Houston (98-51)
Four @ Boston (72-75)
Three @ New York AL (89-58)
Three vs. Toronto (84-64)
For the first time in many Mariners fans’ lives, they will be rooting for the rivals. The Astros, Yankees, and, if it comes to it, the Blue Jays will all be vitally important in securing the Mariners’ playoff birth. Out of seemingly nowhere, The Baltimore Orioles went on a hot streak similar to the one Seattle had in July. Their success had brought them much closer to the playoffs than most expected before the year started. It would be a cool story to see the team that won only 52 games a season ago make the playoffs the following year without any significant moves any other season. But fans in the PNW would love nothing more than to see this team fall apart. The Orioles’ playoff chances are very low, with a lot needed for them to make it in. They are five games behind the Mariners and have no easy opponents following the last game against Detroit. Mariners fans will be cheering for Houston in the four-game Baltimore series, as each Oriole loss is one step closer to playoff baseball in Seattle. The Yankees will also have a big part down the stretch as they play three versus the Orioles and three against the Rays. I don’t want to call it yet, but the playoffs are looking like a very real possibility for the Mariners. Baltimore will have to have to go on a crazy run for things to change, and with the remaining schedule, I don’t see it happening.
In a perfect world, the Mariners will win out and clinch the top wild-card spot. A perfect finish will likely not be the case. Losses happen, and the final stretch will surely bring plenty of drama. The best chance for the Mariners to have success in the postseason would be to clinch either the first or third wild card spot. The first would secure a home-field advantage against the Blue Jays or Rays. The home atmosphere will be something special and should expectedly be enough to make it to the divisional series. The third wild card spot would see a round-one matchup against the Guardians. Cleveland is no easy team, but playing them on the road would be a much more appealing series than traveling to Tampa Bay or Toronto. No, it is not a lock just yet, but playoff baseball is in the air, and Seattle should be excited for what’s to come.