The Mariners haven't made the postseason since way back yonder in 2001, and that makes for the longest current playoff drought not only in MLB (yes, longer than that of the Cleveland Browns). A glance at the current standings would seem to give cause for hope. At this writing, the M's are 17 games above .500 and just 1 1/2 games out of second wild-card position in the AL. Good news, right?
Well, not really. For a couple of reasons, Seattle's playoff excommunication is likely to continue for at least another year. Shield thine eyes, M's rooters ...
1. The Mariners don't project well going forward
While Seattle's record is self-evidently what matters, there's likely some unsustainable good fortune baked into it. They're 17 games over .500, yes, but they've achieved that mark despite being outscored by the opposition by 24 runs on the season. Framed another way, based on run differential the Mariners right now should have a record of 56-61 -- a whopping 11 games worse than their actual mark.
To drill a bit more deeply into this matter, we'll use the BaseRuns system available at Fangraphs. BaseRuns attempts to model a team's run-scoring and run-prevention capabilities at the granular level -- i.e., on a plate-appearance-by-plate-appearance basis and with the effects of hit "sequencing" removed. Basically, it's a measure of how good a team is at controlling the fundamental outcomes of the batter-pitcher encounter. It yields what a team's record should be based on those core skills. As for the 2018 Mariners, they have a current BaseRuns record of 58-59. That's better than what their run differential suggests about the team's underlying merits, but it's still well shy of their actual record.
To be sure, the Mariners' current record is what it is, but the concern raised by their run differential and BaseRuns mark is that the team could regress at any moment and turn into that .500-ish team. Given that the Mariners are just 14-19 since July 1, maybe that's already happened. The likely reality is that their 28-14 record in games decided by one run almost certainly isn't sustainable and can't be relied upon the rest of the way.
Related to all of this -- and related to the fact that they currently trail the Athletics in the race for that second AL wild-card spot -- is what the SportsLine Projection Model says about the 2018 Mariners. Coming into Saturday's slate, the system gives the M's just a 30.6 percent chance of making the postseason. By contrast, SportsLine gives the A's a nice 69.1 percent chance of making the playoffs, despite the close proximity to Seattle in the standings. That's the reality for the M's right now.
2. The remaining schedule is pretty brutal
Here's a look at Seattle's remaining games, including Saturday's tilt at Houston ...
- @HOU (two games)
- @OAK (3)
- LAD (3)
- HOU (3)
- @ARI (3)
- @SDP (2)
- @OAK (4)
- BAL (3)
- NYY (3)
- SDP (2)
- @LAA (4)
- @HOU (3)
- @TEX (3)
- OAK (3)
- TEX (4)
Of their 45 remaining regular-season games, 24 are on the road. Moreover, 27 come against teams currently in playoff position, and a total 31 come against teams that currently have a winning record (and Mike Trout figures to be off the DL by the time they run into the Angels on Sept. 13). Thus far, the Mariners' opponents have an average winning percentage of .503. The rest of the way, though, the that figure increases to .526. Among AL teams, only the Orioles have a tougher remaining docket in terms of opponents' average winning percentage.
The return of Robinson Cano from suspension should help, but will that offset the troubled rotation and injury-riddled bullpen? Mostly, though, the grim outlook is about the team's suspect projection and the tough schedule ahead. Obviously, you can't dismiss a team that's just 1 1/2 games off the playoff pace, but things don't appear to be aligning in the Mariners' favor. Again.