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Originally published October 3, 2012 at 10:00 PM | Page modified October 4, 2012 at 9:31 PM

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Mariners in 2013 playoffs? Manager Eric Wedge thinks so — sort of

Mariners manager Eric Wedge says team is making progress and will continue to get better.

Times staff columnist

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As Mariners manager Eric Wedge sat in his office early Wednesday afternoon and gave reporters his best sales pitch for optimism next season, a roar erupted in the clubhouse. His players were reacting to a dramatic moment in the Texas-Oakland clash for the American League West division title.

Well, at least the Mariners experienced meaningful October baseball. It was only through television, though, which is like saying you met Sofia Vergara because you watched "Modern Family."

After the commotion, Wedge flashed a curious look and continued his stump speech. He was in rare, hope-hawking form. He could've convinced an eagle to fly commercial.

He even used the P-word. And it was playoffs, not patience.

"That's what we're hoping to do," Wedge said before a 12-0 season-ending victory over the Los Angeles Angels, when asked if the Mariners could be in playoff contention in 2013. "It may be a little quick when it comes to Rebuilding 101, but it's not beyond the realm."

Don't laugh.

OK, don't laugh too much.

Wedge can be a scary dude, remember.

Later, the manager couched his enthusiasm a little, cautioning, "We're not going to deviate from the plan."

He never committed to a tangible 2013 expectation and left himself wiggle room in case the Mariners stumble again. Still, he was aggressive in setting the agenda. He did it for the apathetic public, but he needs the message to be received by two other important factions.

His core of young players.

And his front office.

Both parties will need to have career years for the Mariners to be relevant so soon. The franchise still requires significant player development, which takes time. But just as important, ownership needs to allow general manager Jack Zduriencik to spend money to upgrade the rest of the roster with quality acquisitions through trades and free agency. Otherwise, Wedge is merely talking because someone has to say something positive.

The Mariners concluded another rebuilding year Wednesday with their third straight losing season. It's also their third consecutive finish at the bottom of the AL West. They ended up 19 games behind first-place Oakland — Oakland! — in a division that keeps getting stronger. Oh, but this has been progressive cellar-dwelling: 61-101 record in 2010, 67-95 in 2011, 75-87 this season.

By playing well in July and August, the Mariners made this season more exciting than anticipated. Nevertheless, they were the worst-hitting team in baseball (.234 average) for a third consecutive season. And even though they received a nice season from Kyle Seager, a surprise season from Michael Saunders and a clutch season from John Jaso, they endured the struggles of two potential cornerstones of this rebuilding project — Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak — and Jesus Montero couldn't avoid the customary erratic performance of a player in his first full season. Stars didn't emerge, but the Mariners have clarity on their young talent. It's a good, though not spectacular, mix.

"It's about building that foundation," Wedge said. "That's not easy to do. It's the road less traveled. It takes a little longer. It's a little bit harder. But in the end, it's worth it. Because it's not just about being a championship team. It's about being a championship team and sustaining that success. That's why people who don't have that kind of blind faith have a hard time seeing it until you get there. But ultimately, they'll appreciate it because, when we get there, we're going to stay there."

The Mariners should make T-shirts of Wedge looking stern with the words "Trust Me" underneath his mug. Why trust him? Because you wouldn't dare distrust him to his face.

Wedge just wants us all to believe, starting with his players.

"I want them to understand just how good we're going to be in the future," he said when asked if there's a theme to his season-closing message. "And I don't say that without reason. If people don't want to see it, it's because they choose not to see it. Or they're just negative by nature. Ultimately, we are a better team this year. That's fact. We're going to continue to get better."

The Mariners' 2012 season began in Japan and ended in last place, which is an indirect route to a familiar destination. They were humbled and Humber-ed along the way. They were imperfect, but Felix Hernandez was perfect for a day. They said goodbye to Ichiro and fully embraced a new icon. They're better, not inarguably so, but they're better.

So, as you examine the rubber they burned on their path, you're left to stare at their moderate, incremental progress and sigh. And if you're not too exhausted from disappointment, trust in what you can't see.

For now, hope requires closed eyes.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @JerryBrewer

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