SEATTLE — It’s probably true, as many suggest, that the All-Star break comes at a good time for the Mariners. Beyond any doubt, it comes at a great time for many of their fans.
Even a casual thumbing through social media shows rising concern— and small wonder. The Mariners hit the break with seven losses in their last nine games, and their lead in the wild-card race is down to three games over Oakland.
That advantage was 7 1/2 games as recently as July 6.
The All-Star break offers four days to take a deep breath and reset. A three-game lead is still pretty good; much better than many Mariners fans would have anticipated prior to the season or when Robinson Cano got busted for PEDs.
Any rising angst among Mariners fans is not only understandable; it is historically validated when connected to a franchise that owns the longest postseason drought among the four major North American professional leagues.
The Mariners earned these doubts by meandering, often aimlessly, through the last 16 summers. They’ve teased their fans before. Even many of those who want to believe this time will be different find it difficult to bury all skepticism.
For what it’s worth, I think this time is different. I think the Mariners are clearly better, and better positioned for the future, than when Jerry Dipoto became general manager on Sept. 26, 2015.
That doesn’t necessarily mean postseason ball is coming this fall to the Pacific Northwest — although that is the only meaningful gauge in determining whether this season is a success.
OK, the Mariners need to overcome their own history.
Now, let’s take a step back and look at some other historical facts and, for our purposes here, let’s limit the discussion to the second wild-card berth.
(It’s not impossible that the Mariners could chase down Houston in the American League West or the New York Yankees for the first wild-card spot. If that happens, great, we’ll reset for another discussion at that point.)
Further, let’s view that second wild-card berth, for now anyway, as a match race between the Mariners and Oakland.
No other club is closer than 8 1/2 games to the Mariners and — since the two wild-card era began in 2012 — no club has overcome a deficit greater than 5 1/2 games at the break to reach postseason.
Here we go:
The Mariners are 58-39, which puts them on pace to win 97 games. Even if they scuffle along at roughly .500 — say, 32-33 over the remaining 65 games — that gets them to 90 victories.
Only twice in the two wild-card era has a club won 90 or more games and failed to reach postseason, although both times occurred in the American League: Tampa Bay (90 in 2012) and Texas (91 in 2013).
So, yes, you can win 90 and not make it. But make it to 92 victories, which would require the Mariners to go 34-31, and history says you’re in.
While history gets rewritten all the time, consider: If the Mariners get to 92 victories, the Athletics must go 37-28 to match them. Doable. But tough.
More history from the six years covering the two wild-card era:
The Mariners have a three-game lead over the A’s and, yes, clubs have blown three-game leads after break. But that, too, doesn’t happen often: once in the National League and twice in the American League.
The NL collapse came last season when Milwaukee blew a 5 1/2-game lead as the then-defending champion Chicago Cubs mounted a post-break surge.
The Brewers currently hold an NL wild-card berth by 1 1/2 games but enter the break on a six-game skid. How do you think fans are feeling in Milwaukee?
As for the AL, Minnesota squandered a four-game advantage in 2015; while the 2012 Los Angeles Angels let a three-game edge slip away. It’s worth noting that Dipoto was the general manager of those Angels.
It’s also worth noting that the Mariners had a 2 1/2-game lead for the final wild-card berth in 2014 at the break. That was the year they were eliminated from postseason contention midway through the final game of the season.
History, overall, says the Mariners are in pretty good shape as they enter their post-break schedule, but any angst hereabouts is easy to understand.