Stop the Presses! (They probably don't say that anymore but stop them anyway!) The Seattle Mariners, moribund as can be since 2001, are in the playoff hunt with 84 games complete as of July 1st. That's not all. If the regular season ended today the Swingin' Ms of Safeco Field would be IN the playoffs. Perched precariously in the second Wild Card spot the Mariners would travel to Los Angeles to play the Angels in a one game playoff...if it ended today.
It doesn't end for months but Mariners' fans can be forgiven if they feel just a bit giddy right now. Left in the dust at the beginning of the year by teams that pitch almost as well and hit far better, the Mariners have hung around. They pitch like demons, and seem to hit just enough. Will it be sufficient? Only Nostradamus knows for sure but Seattleites will tell anyone who cares to listen that it is fun to have baseball games mean something in the gloaming of a Seattle summer's night?
The story of the Mariners has been about pitching for so long that it seems as if the Mariners of Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, and Jay Buhner never toiled in the great Northwest. This year is no exception. Seattle has three of the Top Twenty ERAs in the American League on their five man pitching staff and Roenis Elias isn't far behind.
"King" Felix Hernandez leads this staff and may, in fact, be named to start the All-Star game. But this king has knights and knaves aplenty that can pitch the other four days. Hisashi Iwakuma is a stalwart Number Two and Chris Young has been one of the unearthed gems of the 2014 season.
The question looming over the Mariners this (and every) year was whether there would be enough hitting to support the staff. The answer would be "No" if there were normal pitchers taking the mound for the Mariners. The Ms are 12th in the American League in batting average and dead last in on base percentage and OPS (On base percentage + slugging percentage). In fact, the Mariners are beneath the league average in every meaningful offensive category. They are also 12th in the 15 team league in fielding.
Let that sink in for a minute.
"Surely there has to be something the Mariners are doing right besides pitching" you may say. "No tam has won it all with pitching alone since the Koufax/Drysdale Dodgers in the 60s."
You would be right. The Mariners are road warriors. At 24-16 the Mariners have a better road record than any other American League team boasts... for a home record! The Mariners hit better on the road and pitch just as well as they do in spacious Safeco Field. The difference is so noticeable that, should the Mariners finish with the top Wild Card spot, they might want to decline the home game and go to L.A. instead.
Mariners' fans know that the season is only half way over. They know that slim indeed is the margin for error for a team that only hits on the road. They know that the prudent thing to do right now is pump the brakes and wait to see what the summer months bring.
But the city known for rain and the 12th Man doesn't pump the brakes. Bring on the second half of the season.