Why the Mariners are closer to the World Series than you think
Yes, you read that headline correctly. The Seattle Mariners may not be as far away from the World Series as it appears.
On the surface, the state of the Mariners looks bleak. In 2012, the team finished 12 games under .500 and attendance continued to drop while the other three American League West teams were contenders.
The Mariner offense has been about as intimidating as a couple of kittens. But things can change. Just look at recent history.
In the past six seasons, eight franchises (2012 A’s, 2012 Orioles, 2012 Nationals, 2010 Reds, 2010 Rangers, 2008 Rays, 2008 Brewers and 2007 Rockies) reached the postseason for the first time in a long time — and three of those eight made it to the World Series.
The average number of years between postseason appearances for those teams was 16. By 2013, it would only be 12 years since Seattle had made the playoffs.
These surprise playoff teams averaged 76 wins the year before those dream seasons. Seattle won 75 in 2012.
In terms of statistics, these Cinderellas don’t have much in common. Looking at each team’s hitting, pitching and fielding, there isn’t much of a correlation other than improvement from the previous year. In other words, there is no specific formula for reaching the postseason.
These teams do have one thing in common, though: their magnificent runs came out of nowhere.
Not only had the 2008 Rays never previously reached the postseason, they had never been anywhere close — and they got to the World Series!
Baltimore hadn’t had a single winning season since 1997 and won just 69 games in 2011. The Orioles scored only seven more runs than they allowed in 2012, but were magical in close games — 16-2 in extra innings and a record 29-9 in one-run games.
Then you have teams that caught fire and rode that momentum. The 2007 Rockies won 14 of their last 15 regular season games, took the one-game playoff and then swept the NLDS and NLCS to reach the franchise’s first World Series. The 2012 A’s had all kinds of hot streaks, including winning eight of their last night nine, culminating in a three-game sweep of Texas to steal the AL West title.
Translation: Dream seasons can happen, even if out of nowhere.
There is a lot of luck involved in baseball. Injuries, picking up the right players at the right time and sometimes a matter of inches can decide a season.
Oakland had great success in 2012 with rookie pitchers. Seattle has three top pitching prospects knocking on the door in Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton. The battery mate for these arms looks to be first-round draft pick Mike Zunino. Who knows, maybe this foursome will be major-league ready in 2013.
It’s entirely possible for everything to fall into place. A few good moves by general manager Jack Zduriencik this winter, combined with some of the young players busting out banner seasons, could send the Mariners back to the postseason. And as Oakland GM Billy Beane said, “The playoffs are a crapshoot.”
All you have to do is get there, and the World Series is within reach.
The Seattle Mariners may not have resembled a playoff contender in 2012, but neither did Baltimore or Oakland in 2011.
And when you have an ace like Felix Hernandez, anything is possible.
Seattle Times reader Justin "Jux" Berg has lived in Bellingham for seven years. The Ohio transplant lives for baseball, both past and present, and has been a fan of the Mariners since the day Ken Griffey Jr. was drafted.