BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 09/24/2020

Thiel: Rare word offered to Mariners — congrats

Mariners won Wednesday to take a home series from the Astros for the first time since 2016. The larger news is that no one got sick, and the Mariners are getting well.

SS J.P. Crawford, CF Kyle Lewis and teammates have had some reasons to celebrate the short season. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

From 30,000 feet, the Mariners appear as they almost always have: No playoffs in 20 years, no World Series appearance ever, still living on The Double by Edgar Martinez — an entire generation grown to adulthood without seeing it live, yet endlessly on the broadcasts.

But from 1,000 feet, things look a little different. For that, I have one word for the franchise that may surprise you:

Congratulations.

The Mariners were forced to swallow a figurative bowling ball, yet played on with some valor.

In the most demanding, confounding season in MLB history, the Mariners, against all the physics of the baseball universe, are still in contention for a playoff berth in the stubby regular season that ends Sunday.

The chance is meager — the Mariners (25-31) have to win their remaining four games in Oakland while the Toronto Blue Jays (29-27) have to lose all their games at home to Baltimore, to gain the second and final wild card spot in the expanded, eight-team American League playoffs.

But the fact there is even a nano-magic number entering the final weekend exceeded the most drunken optimism in the long-ago times of late July, when the club began what could only be considered extended spring training for another step-back year.

Instead, the Mariners finished the home season Wednesday with their first home-series win (2-1) over the Houston Astros since April 2016. Unheralded Nick Margevicius, a waiver claim in January from San Diego, pitched six shutout innings to out-duel Astros ace Zach Greinke in a 3-2 triumph that denied the Astros (28-28) a chance to clinch a playoff berth.

The victory may seem a trifle to the rest of baseball, but that’s because they don’t recall the Mariners going 1-18 against Houston last year.

“We finished with a winning record (14-10) at home,” said manager Scott Servais, smiling, after the game. “I wish we had a few more at home.”

The sardonic reference was to six home games that had to become road contests because of smoke from wildfires and anger over racial injustice kept the contests from being played in Seattle.

The dislocations were just part of the tumult, which has so far included at least 43 postponements.

For the Mariners, the late run to modest contention was more like whipped cream. The cake was identifying young, legit MLB talent.

They have developed the foundation of an MLB average-or-better starting rotation, led by Marco Gonzales, a top-10 AL pitcher. Margevicius’s quality start Wednesday was the 13th by a Mariners pitcher 25 or younger, most in the majors this year.

In CF Kyle Lewis, they have the probable American League rookie of the year. In 1B Evan White, an already great fielder, they have a serious power bat. During the season,  they acquired C Luis Torrens and INF Ty France, who had impressive starts to their Seattle careers.

Also notably, the club was sufficiently disciplined to avoid spreading the coronavirus. They had only a single COVID-19 positive test, a preseason episode with reliever Yoshihisa Hirano that produced no team consequences.

There’s no good-hygiene award his year in MLB. But given the convulsions to routine, schedule and travel by the various external plot twists, they must be credited for not resembling Bruce Willis’s character John McClane at the end of Die Hard.

Before the final home game, Servais took some justifiable pride in his club’s ability to remain on an uptick amid the uncertainties.

“It’s only a third of a regular season, and it’s hard to fathom everything that’s happened this year,” he said via Zoom. “From having two different spring trainings, to postponing a game in San Diego to make a statement (about racial injustice). We’ve dealt with the wildfires and and had to play (home) games on the road.

“The number of transactions, the alternate training site, no minor leagues . . .  You can go on and on.”

Maybe it was because most everyone on the youngest Opening Day roster in MLB was happy to be here. But Servais said the group culture remained positive despite all.

“You can look for excuses and things that make it not fun; it’s just not normal,” he said. “But I will say, with our group and I can speak personally here, I’ve had a ton of fun this year. I really have. I think the biggest thing for me and our team is that we came in with the right attitude. Grateful we get the opportunity to play. I didn’t think I’d ever say that.

“You just kind of assumed so many things in our lives. It’s just easy to go the grocery store, go out to a restaurant or just the freedom to do what you want to do. When the game got taken away from us for a few months, it does make you stop and think, like, I just hope we get a chance to come back and play.”

They played more quality games than anyone expected. The personnel vulnerability was the bullpen.

According to an MLB.com story this week, five relievers are on the injured list, three have recently returned from the injured list, three have been traded and seven have spent time at the alternate training site or been released. That accounting doesn’t include Andres Munoz, a reliever acquired at the trade deadline who was already on the IL after Tommy John surgery.

The chaos explains a lot about why the Mariners have the AL’s worst bullpen ERA at 5.90, and why a playoff bid was hard to take seriously. Which didn’t mean fringe contention wasn’t worthwhile.

“When we put some nice streaks together and everybody got excited about a chance to make a run at the playoffs, we felt it was good thing for players to go through it,” Servais said. “But we understand where we are as an organization in our development.

“The whole plan all year was continue to get better. I think we have.”

They also did it without burning service time for top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert. Entertaining as it would have been to use the future stars for two or three wins to break the playoff drought, the Mariners would have little chance against a No. 1 seed. Just getting through this dyspeptic 60-day trial without getting or making anyone sick was a competitive achievement.

From 30,000 feet, all that can be seen is an empty stadium. Closer to the ground, there’s something going on.

 


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YourThoughts

  • Kevin Lynch

    Well, credit to you, Art, for taking the high road in analysis. Me, I’ll take the rocky road the team has had us on for twenty years. In checking the other day, the team was in the bottom sixth in MLB in both batting average and ERA. Regarding any prospects for the World Series, it’s like the Mariners are a wagon train heading from Milwaukee to Seattle. The kids keep getting told they’ll see the blue Pacific one day. Never happens. It’s going to take a Series, not just playoffs, to get back the excitement of 2001.

    • Brent Hannon

      I’m with Kevin. with the M’s, it’s always about tomorrow, or yesterday, but never today. this was the perfect year to load up and tried to make the (expanded) playoffs. but no: instead they churned the roster yet again, for yet more middling prospects. I want to be the A’s: no payroll, no park, no money, but every year they load up and try to win, and here they are: atop the AL West. with the A’s, it’s about today, not tomorrow. but Art, you might be right. maybe there is a faint glimmer of distant hope. I’ll break out the telescope and try to see it.

      • art thiel

        Since the M’s last went in 2001, the A’s will have gone nine times to the playoffs. No greater shame tells the Mariners story.

        Again, I was looking at 60 games in a corrupted season, and giving credit where due. I’m not going to write a seasonal obit Sunday, or anytime soon, because I’m working the Seahawks. Thereafter, I’ll watch for the MLB casualty rate in the playoffs, and see what world it is Nov. 4.

    • DomenicaJShupe

      Google is paying $90 every hour…On Tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range-Rover from having earned $14151 this last four weeks…2d It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
      …………………………………………………….. http://www.JumpZoo.com

    • art thiel

      I get the the skepticism. We’re all entitled. But as I wrote, this is from 1,000 feet. I tried to credit the 60 days, and didn’t say they were playoff bound in ’21.

  • SeattleSince57

    Just a few years back, as a local dist. beer rep,
    my boss, one August, seeing my Mariner sport bar promotional signing in my bars,
    told me sternly to get that “crap replaced”

    In my defense, “But boss, it’s still baseball season”..
    His reply, “Not in Seattle..”

    • art thiel

      Good one. Fair one. Old one.

  • WestCoastBias79

    The best part of the NBA and NHL being delayed was being able to wholesale ignore baseball and have my sporting itch scratched until the NFL started. I realize this is a trollish comment, but I’ve earned the right to bandwagon the M’s with decades of wasted time and literally thousands of dollars watching this franchise. Gun to head, I probably couldn’t name four players on this team, and I used to share season tickets. When they make the playoffs, I’ll be back, but I’ve seen this show before, hopefully this time the ending is different.

    • art thiel

      Your contempt is merited, and undeniable. But feel free to peek through your fingers over your face.

  • SeattleSince57

    I have been known to say the Mariners are the Cleveland Browns of MLB.
    Even that ship has sailed.

    • art thiel

      The ship is not beyond the breakwater.

    • Husky73

      In their history, the Browns have won several championships.

      • SeattleSince57

        You are correct, however as they recently made the playoffs, the Seattle Mariners now have the longest current playoff gap in the 4 major Pro leagues,sadly

  • woofer

    The rebuild does indeed look like it could some day succeed. But for right now the best thing about the 2020 season was the total absence of bobblehead nights.

  • Alan Harrison

    While I understand and share the frustration, the pointed nature of the negative comments here should wait until next season, not this one. 25 wins would have matched last year’s team, so there is some measurable progress. If, virus notwithstanding, the team is just a .500 club next year – especially if it’s due to a meaningless winning run after it doesn’t matter any more – then we’ve got every right to be ticked off. Trade Seager, make France your everyday 3B, White, Crawford, Moore (or a trade/fa pickup), Lewis, Kellenic, and a FA/trade stud short term (until Trammell, Julio, or Ervin can make the leap), Raleigh/Torrens, Marco, Justus, Margevicius, Walker, and Logan Gilbert (or trade a top prospect for a stud starter), and worry about the bullpen last, because unless the script across your uni front says “Dodgers,” no team has bullpen depth. And if that team is a not a .500 team, then the plan may have failed, not by design, but by execution.

  • jafabian

    Only the Padres trot out a younger roster with an average age of 26.7 to the M’s 26.9. The Padres currently have 18 wins to the M’s 26. I’d like to see the M’s finish above the Angels at this point. This team doesn’t have the swagger and intestinal fortitude of the ‘95 and ‘01 Mariners teams but are headed in the right direction. I didn’t expect much this season even before the pandemic and they could easily be right there with the Padres. Credit Scott Servais who had to adjust from managing a team of overachieving veterans to teaching a bunch of talented and brash youngsters. And credit Jerry Dipoto for rebuilding the franchise and changing its culture to match the rest of MLB. Both have had to adapt to the new normal known as COVID19. From what I’ve seen I’m not about to say next year is a division title but a winning season is definitely in the cards.

  • SeattleSince57

    Hope Dipoto knows what he’s doing..
    so many bad MLB teams ‘in front of the Mariners’ draft each year.

  • Husky73

    There is no one in the Mariners organization that demands excellence…not Stanton, not Dipoto and not Servais. The leadership of the Cardinals, Dodgers and Yankees demand excellence…..every year.

  • SeattleSince57

    I read that in 1923, Babe and the Yankees won the World Series.
    There were 16 teams in MLB.
    This year, 16 teams make the playoffs. M’s shut out again, for 19th straight year.

  • Seattle Psycho

    It definitely does appear that this plan may work. I would like to see them go for a SP in free agency who understands next year will be a work in progress with 2022 being the year of expectations.

    • Husky73

      Do you mean, like Kikuchi?