Are The Seattle Mariners For Real?

The Seattle Mariners are the fly in the ointment for a lot of American League teams right now. At 37-22 and with a one-game lead in the AL West, they’ve prevented Houston from turning the next four months into one long coronation run. By joining the Astros, Yankees and Red Sox atop the American League, the Mariners are preventing teams around the .500 level from thinking about the second wild-card. And if Seattle keeps it up, it means an AL wild-card game won’t automatically be at Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium.

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But just how realistic is it for the Mariners to keep this kind of pace? The oddsmakers aren’t buying in. Houston remains a heavy 1-5 betting favorite to win the division. If you believe in Seattle, you can still bet them at 9-2 odds simply to win the AL West. Thus, the question lingers—are the Mariners a legit contender, or will they end up among a handful of teams trying to steal the final playoff spot with 88 or so wins?

The biggest thing Seattle has going for them is this—they have good frontline starting pitchers who haven’t hit their stride. Felix Hernandez has made 13 starts and his ERA is 5.33. Mike Leake has gone to the post 12 times and the ERA is 4.71.

In spite of this, the Mariners are still fifth in the American League in staff ERA. What if yesterday’s performance by King Felix—an 8 IP/1 ER gem against Tampa Bay is a sign of things to come? And what if Leake picks up the pace even modestly? There are no starting pitchers currently performing over their head, so that suggests that projecting Seattle pitching is all about the upside.

The same can be said for the offense. The Mariners don’t rely on their bats in any case, only ranking ninth in the AL in runs scored, but they are more likely to get better than they are to regress. Seattle will get Robinson Cano back in mid-August, when he’s both served his PED suspension and recovered from a hand injury.

It’s true Jean Seguara might not hit .331 all year, but neither will Kyle Seager muck around with a .stat line of .281 on-base percentage/.408 slugging. Mitch Haniger’s .359/.512 pace might slow, but Nelson Cruz might start getting on base at a rate better than .325.

In short, no matter how you slice the individual pieces, there’s no reason to think Seattle can’t have at the fifth-best pitching staff and ninth-most productive lineup in the American League like they do right now. And there’s a lot of reasons to think each could rank higher.

Furthermore, the front office has conveyed its seriousness about this season. They didn’t wait until the trade deadline to start dealing with weaknesses. Just before Memorial Day, Seattle acquired Denard Span and Alex Colome from Tampa Bay. Span’s insertion into the outfield provides veteran presence and also fills the void left by Cano (outfielder Dee Gordon was moved to second to fill Cano’s spot). Colome adds another arm to a bullpen that needed the depth.

So given all this, is Seattle a value bet at 9-2 to win the AL West? At the very least, shouldn’t we be at least acknowledging them as a legit team on a par with Houston, New York and Boston? Logically, all signs point to yes. But my gut instincts still say no.

This franchise has a bad history to fight against. They haven’t made the playoffs since the 116-win season of 2001, the longest postseason drought in MLB. I don’t rule out them grabbing a wild-card spot, but I still see the Mariners more on a par with teams like the Angels or Twins. They’ll be in the playoff hunt but they won’t be among the league’s elite.

I don’t like ignoring the logical reasons for optimism outlined here in favor of vague instincts and historical track record. But this is just not an organization I have any real belief in. The guess here is that Seattle comes back to the pack and Houston runs away with the division by Labor Day.