The Mariners, who have averaged one playoff appearance every decade, reach the halfway point of the 2017 season Friday.
The All-Star break July 10-13 is the traditional divide between baseball’s first and second halves, but the schedule midpoint for the Mariners is Friday against the Angels in Anaheim, where Seattle takes a 39-41 record and four-game losing streak into No. 81 of 162. Although a season-high 14½ games behind Houston in the AL West after gagging twice to the lowly Phillies earlier this week, the Mariners remain one of seven teams within range (3½ games or less) of an American League wild card spot.
Should they earn one of the two available, they will snap a 16-year playoff drought that is exceeded in that particular kind of major-sports infamy only by the 17-year absence of the Buffalo Bills from the NFL postseason. However, should they miss again in their 40th anniversary season, it will underscore a widespread belief that the Mariners have been baseball’s most futile operation for the entirety of their existence.
That’s not quite true, but almost.
Since they entered the American League in 1977, the Mariners reached the postseason only four times, all under manager Lou Piniella during a seven-year stretch from 1995 through 2001. That’s four for 40, a .100 “batting average” that would shame even Mario Mendoza.
Prior to the shocking burst of competence under Piniella, gone now 15 years, the Mariners had only two winning seasons in 18 years while reaching triple digits in defeats three times. The Mariners didn’t even produce a winning record until their 16th year (83-79, 1991), the longest slog to .500 in pro sports history to that point.
Since their last playoff appearance in 2001, the Mariners have lost 90 or more games in a season six times, low-lighted by seven last-place finishes in the AL West. In that time, the Angels have won six division titles, the Athletics five and the Rangers four.
Another way to do the math: By “cramming” four playoff appearances – 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2001 – into 40 seasons (1977 through 2016), the Mariners average one playoff appearance every 10 years. In the era of divisional play, the 48-year span from 1969 through 2016, only three franchises top the Mariners in average number of years (“ratio” in the following chart) between postseason appearances:
|Nationals||48||4||12||Played as Montreal Expos from 1969-2004|
|Brewers||48||4||12||Played as Seattle Pilots in 1969|
|Marlins||24||2||12||Won World Series in 1997, 2003|
|MARINERS||40||4||10||No playoff appearances since 2001|
|Padres||48||5||9.6||Missing from NL playoffs since ’06|
|White Sox||48||5||9.6||Missing from AL playoffs since ’08; won Series ’05|
|Rockies||23||3||7.7||Reached World Series in ’07, lost 4-0|
The Nationals started off as the Montreal Expos, a woebegone franchise that had one playoff season (1981) in the 36 years it languished in Canada. But since relocating to Washington, D.C., in 2005, the Nationals have reached the postseason three times, all in the past five years, and are in first place the NL East. The Nats are technically worse than the Mariners with a playoff berth every dozen years, but they have been better than Seattle in recent seasons.
The Nats and M’s are the only MLB teams never to have played in the World Series.
Only five of 24 Marlins seasons have ended as winning ones, but two (1997, 2003) were capped with World Series triumphs, a fact that overwhelms the franchise’s once-every-12 years playoff number.
As with the Nationals/Expos, the Milwaukee Brewers have made four playoff appearances in 48 years, also one in every 12. Which means that Seattle has served as home to two of the worst MLB franchises in the last half century.
The Brewers launched in 1969 as the Seattle Pilots, who lasted only that season as the primary tenant at Sick’s Stadium. Plucked out of bankruptcy court in the spring of 1970 by former commissioner Bud Selig and transferred to Milwaukee, the Brewers first reached the postseason in 1981, lost the World Series in 1982 and then went missing from the playoffs until 2008. Three years later (2011), the Brewers lost the NLCS. Today, they’re leading the NL Central.
The Mariners were born as the result of a successful 1972 lawsuit filed by Washington state and the city of Seattle against the American League and amount to settlement compensation for the loss of the Pilots.
So Seattle has spawned two MLB franchises – the Pilots and Son of Seattle Pilots (Mariners) – that have eight playoff appearances to show for a combined 88 years.
In contrast to such feebleness, the Boston Red Sox have won three World Series since 2004. The Arizona Diamondbacks have been an MLB franchise for only 19 years, but have already made five playoff appearances – one every 3.8 years — and won a World Series (2001).
While the Yankees make the postseason every two years and the Braves once every 2.4, the average club does so once every five. That’s twice as often as the once-in-a decade Mariners.
For years after their 116-46 in 2001, the Mariners couldn’t win the AL West with only three other teams in it. Now they have been eclipsed by Houston, which joined the division in 2013.
Only four years ago, the Astros concluded a run of three consecutive 100-loss seasons. Now, with the best talent in the division and best record in baseball, they are making the Mariners, who continue to muddle around .500, scramble in a crowded field for a wild card spot.
Some franchises are doomed to everlasting mediocrity. After 40 years and one playoff spot every 10 years, the Mariners are one of them and will remain so, even if they add in October a notch on their skinny playoff belts. Although another notch would be nice.