Can a contending team completely torpedo its playoff chances in the span of August’s last nine days? It looks like we have our answer in the form of the 2016 Seattle Mariners . The last two days may have been the most demoralizing, when they lost a heartbreaker followed by Wednesday’s blowout in a game that started with their ace on the hill.
Let’s take a look at how this all unfolded.
The Mariners were lingering around in contention for most of the season. After a total collapse on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball against the Chicago Cubs on July 31 and then a one-run loss to the Boston Red Sox on Aug. 1, the Mariners were 52-52 and a fringe contender, at best.
Then things started to click. They took two of the final three against the Red Sox to salvage a split before running off six straight wins, including a three-game sweep over fellow wild-card hopeful Detroit. A few losses were mixed in, but overall from Aug. 2 through Aug. 22, the Mariners went 15-5 and climbed to within just one game of the second AL wild-card spot. They were even within striking range of the Texas Rangers in the AL West, sitting 5 1/2 out.
Most projections sites out there had the Mariners climbing up to around a 50 percent chance to make the playoffs at this point (Fangraphs.com, for example, had them at 45.2 percent).
Since then, it’s been a whole lot of losing for the Mariners.
They were outscored 10-1 in the last two games of their series against the New York Yankees . They lost three of four to the non-contending Chicago White Sox and that included a walk-off loss and a blowout. And they have now been swept by the Rangers.
The gut punch came on Tuesday night, when the Mariners battled back from a 4-0 deficit with All-Star Cole Hamels on the hill to take a 6-4 lead in the fifth. They would lose that lead but again get it back with a Robinson Cano sac fly in the eighth.
But then this happened against previously-perfect rookie closer Edwin Diaz :
That’s a two-run dagger. Following this game, the SportsLine model gave the Mariners just 2.3 percent chance of making the playoffs.
It seemed to carry over to Wednesday’s matinee, as the Rangers got to Felix Hernandez for six runs in four innings, five of which came in the fourth. The final would end up a 14-1 rout that felt like more “nail in the coffin” than a demoralizer.
So once the projection figures are released Thursday morning, we can expect that to fall below 2 percent, I would guess.
Now, it could be worse. If the Baltimore Orioles lose on Wednesday night, the Mariners will still be within four games of the second AL wild card.
Of course, the Mariners were once right on the tail of the second spot; now they would have to leap over the Yankees, Kansas City Royals , Houston Astros and Detroit Tigers just to get a shot at the Orioles.
There’s a lot of cross-over, head-to-head action in there, so it’s not like the Mariners can just count on all those teams to lose.
On that front, however, the most optimistic of Mariners fans can cling to some hope. They have six games left against the Astros and three against the Toronto Blue Jays — who are leading the AL East, but could conceivably fall down during head-to-heads with the Orioles and Red Sox. The pessimistic fans might point out that those games — along with four more against the Rangers — will be tough victories, especially given how the Mariners are playing right now.
They do have 13 games left against the Los Angeles Angels and A’s, though the Mariners have only gone 14-11 against that duo so far this season. That won’t cut it. The M’s also have three against the Minnesota Twins left, but were swept by the Twins earlier this year.
Basically, as things stand, the situation looks dire in Seattle for the 2016 season.
MLB streak of drought-breaking over?
If the Mariners don’t get really hot and make that unlikely playoff run, it’ll end a bit of a fun streak for Major League Baseball.
2013: Pittsburgh Pirates break longest streak of losing seasons in all of pro sports; make playoffs
2014: Royals break longest MLB playoff drought
2015: Blue Jays break longest MLB playoff drought
The longest remaining playoff drought belongs to the Mariners.
I refuse to count the Mariners out. They could still get really hot while a lot of the other AL contenders beat up on each other. It’s possible. It’s just a big-time long-shot now, shortly after when the chances were starting to get pretty good.
What a difference nine days makes in baseball. Just ask the Mariners.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / The Mariners have all but buried their playoff chances in just nine days