Not On Our Side

Not exactly the way the Mariners wanted to come out of the All-Star Break. Two and one against the White Sox, owners of the third-worst record in baseball. Splitting a two-game series with the Giants, who are struggling to stay at .500. Losing two of three to the Angels, the fourth place team in the Mariners’ own division.

Still, it’s better than the eight games going into the Break, when they went two and six.

And there are signs of hope. The seven run first inning against the Angels Sunday. Last night’s low-scoring, but ultimately victorious match with the Astros. For that matter, the Astros’ four straight losses going into that game and the Athletics’ dropping three in a row to the Rockies didn’t exactly hurt the Ms.

Going five and four and winding up two games closer to the division lead is unusual, but who–outside of Houston and Oakland–is complaining?

The Orioles, by the way, have gone four and five with one rainout over the same stretch. That’s also not exactly world-beating, and they’re still five and half behind those pesky White Sox, but they’re riding a three-game win streak coming into their series with the Yankees. Go Birds!

But I digress.

The Mariners have made a few moves ahead of the Trade Deadline–which we all know is more of a Trade Mild Headache Line. Like their recent record, there’s nothing spectacular there, but nothing horrifying either. Bolstering the bullpen is a reasonable move. A (usually) safe move.

But as I’ve said before, defense doesn’t win ballgames. It can keep you from losing games, but winning requires offense. Just ask Felix. Or, better yet, ask Harvey Haddix, who pitched a perfect game for twelve innings back in 1959 and wound up losing the game 1-0.

Maybe the Ms will do something to bolster the offense today. A trade. A promotion from the minors. A new locker-room ritual. Something.

But this is the Mariners. The gang that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001. Loyal fans have come to expect something to go wrong. Or, more likely, a whole mess of things to go wrong.

Come on guys, make a break with history. Let’s get it right this year.

Late Midway

Here we are at the middle of the season.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Most teams are past the ninety-five game mark and several are at ninety-eight–60% of the season. But the All-Star Break is still the traditional mid-point, even though–thanks to this year’s schedule changes–it’s never been later.

And we all know how important tradition is to baseball. (One assumes that Tevye and the rest of the gang fleeing Anatevka became rabid fans when they reached the U.S. Though they probably would have rooted for the Trolley Dodgers, so there’s that. But I digress.)

Jackie’s Orioles, while not exactly covering themselves with glory, at least made it to the break on a two-game winning streak, giving them 28 victories on the season and putting them percentage points ahead of the Royals in the race to avoid the “Worst Team in Baseball Dunce Cap” (not a real award).

The Giants (hi, John!), despite dropping their last two games to the Athletics, are still two games over .500 and have a legitimate chance to challenge for the NL West crown and a playoff spot.

And, of course, the Mariners, flying high as recently as two weeks ago, have lately put on a performance that makes the Orioles look stellar. They’ve lost four straight and seven of the last ten. That they’re still sitting in the second Wild Card slot says a lot more about the way the rest of the American League started the season than it does about the Ms themselves.

Vexingly, they’re not in the Machado sweepstakes. They’ve got a pretty darn good shortstop already, and their third baseman isn’t exactly shabby either. So, while Manny’s bat might be just what they need to kickstart the offense again, they don’t have anywhere to put him. (As I write this, it appears he’ll be going to the aforementioned Trolley Dodgers. Feh!)

Anyway, the All-Star Break means the Home Run Derby. You know I love me some Derby, even though it’s not really baseball. (If preseason baseball is methadone, what does that make the All-Star Game and the Home Run Derby? Nicotine gum, maybe?)

This year’s HRD may have been the best I’ve seen. Certainly the best since I started blogging. No gross mismatches, a couple of dramatic comebacks, an exciting final round, and a complete lack of distracting charity gimmicks. (The key word there is “distracting”. T-Mobile is donating money to Team Rubicon based partly on the number of home runs hit during the Derby. Good for them. And doubly so for not hitting viewers over the head with their message as has been the case with previous charitable donation promotions.)

I could have done with a bit less Bryce Harper adulation during the event. Yes, I know: local player, heavily favored, plays well to the camera. But the frequent cuts to his latest mugging felt contrived. But it’s a minor complaint, all things considered.

The youthful ball-shaggers were good. I saw a couple of nice catches and only one incident that put me in fear for a kid’s health. And it was great to see them get some on-screen recognition as Pitch, Hit & Run winners. Nobody robbed a competitor of a home run as famously happened to Ryne Sandberg in 1985, but I did see a clean snag just short of the wall.

More nicotine gum tonight with the All-Star Game, then two days of withdrawal before real games resume. (Yeah, okay, there’s a Cardinals/Cubs game on Thursday to help tide us over to Friday, but outside of St. Louis, it’s not a big deal. Certainly unlikely to have significant playoff repercussions.)

Divine Wrath

It’s been a rough week for Seattle baseball fans.

It started with an ordinary aggravation: a rain-out, resulting in a doubleheader. Normally you take those in stride, but it came at an awkward time in the Ms’ schedule: a lot of travel and no off days, thanks to an early-season snow-out.

Then, the day after the doubleheader, Robinson Canó was hit on the hand by an errant pitch. Broken metacarpal bone, out for an estimated 6-8 weeks. A big hit to the team’s playoff hopes and overall morale.

Naturally, then, the Universe doubled down. Before fans even heard the specialist’s appraisal of Canó’s injury and expected recovery time, they found out it was largely irrelevant. MLB determined he’d taken a banned substance and suspended him for eighty games. Not only does that push his return into August, but it means he’ll be ineligible if the Ms’ manage to squeeze into the playoffs.

It’s especially vexing for the fans because of a lack of information. Canó and MLB say he took a diuretic which is on the banned list because it can be used to flush performance-enhancing drugs out of the system. Players don’t get banned for taking that medication; instead, there’s an independent investigation to determine the likelihood that it was taken to conceal PED use.

Canó denies there was any PED use, and that the drug was to control his high blood pressure–a legitimate use. MLB says there is evidence of PED use, but, for privacy reasons, will not discuss what the evidence is or what banned substances they believe he took.

Of course, the result is a persecution complex among Mariners fans, and the rise of conspiracy theories. My favorite says MLB is unhappy at losing the Cubs’ curse as a drawing card and publicity tool. As a result, the theory states, they’re taking steps to extend Seattle’s playoff drought–already the longest in all of the four major American sports–indefinitely. This, of course, ties in nicely with reports that Portland is in the running for an expansion team: how thrilling would it be to have a playoff race between the martyred Mariners and the Portland TBAs? One team trying to break their curse, the other trying to duplicate the success of the NHL’s Vegas franchise–now that’s drama (and ticket sales).

But I digress.

Picture those poor Seattle fans, already dealing with all that.

Tuesday–the same day Canó’s suspension was announced–Nelson Cruz, another key piece of the Mariners’ playoff hopes, was hit in the foot by a pitch.

A wave of fan suicides was forestalled when the team was able to give an update before the end of the game: no bones were broken, but Cruz will be out for several days, and a stint on the Disabled List is still a possibility.

You might think that was enough. But, no. Adding insult to the injuries, most of them couldn’t even watch Wednesday afternoon’s game. Not because of their work schedules, but because it was exclusive to Facebook, one of twenty-five such this season. No local TV, no MLB.TV. Closed your Facebook account in protest of the Cambridge Analytica? Too bad. Don’t want to sit in front of your computer for three hours? Sorry. Don’t have the Facebook app on your mobile device because you don’t want to give them access to your location and contacts? We weep great crocodile tears for you.

Ahem. Sorry.

How was the experience if you were willing to deal with Facebook?

Feh.

In fairness, they did provide a way to turn off the comments window and the stupid emoji scrolling on top of the video. And having the broadcast commercial-free was nice.

Other than that, though…

Even with Facebook comments off, we still got viewer questions and comments slapped onscreen and had to listen to the announcers read them and respond.

Instead of letting fans enjoy the lack of commercials by showing pitchers warming up, attendees singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, and all the other enjoyable non-game elements of the live experience, we got historical moments only tangentially related to the current game and more inane viewer comments.

Let’s not forget the frequent use of split-screen, shrinking the actual game in favor of interviews with studio talking heads, players, and managers.

And, of course, several in-game reminders to buy MLB.TV and get access to “all out of market games”, conveniently not adding “except this one”.

Pardon me again.

So, yeah. Baseball on Facebook is better than no baseball–but that’s a given. If there were any alternative short of flying cross-country to watch the game in person, I’d recommend it.

Still, today is a new day. Mariners fans across the country are risking divine wrath by assuring each other that the worst must surely be over, and life will get better from here.

Game time is 7:10 Pacific, and it will be available through all the usual distribution channels. Surely nothing else can go wrong this week. Right?

Consistency

“Spring Training results are meaningless.” We hear that every March, nearly as often as “He’s in the best shape of his life.”

By and large, it’s true. Players put up awesome numbers in March, then fizzle out when the season starts. Or the reverse, of course, coasting through Spring Training with little to show, then having a career year when the games mean something. Winners of the Cactus and Grapefruit League titles rarely win the World Series.

And yet…

It’s still early in Spring Training, but last year’s playoff teams have a combined record of 73-54. Over a 162 game schedule, that .575 record translates into 93 wins. Six of those ten teams had at least 93 wins last year. The Cubs and Yankees had 92 and 91 wins, respectively.

For what it’s worth, the five worst teams last year–the Reds, White Sox, Phillies, Giants, and Tigers–have a combined 26-36 record, the equivalent of 68 wins in the regular season. The 2017 Reds went 68-94, the White Sox were 67-95, and I won’t embarrass fans of the other three teams by quoting their records. No other team in either league had less than 70 wins.

I haven’t done the research to see if this is typical or a freak occurrence. But it does make one ponder the value of consistency. Dynasty by another name, really.

Moving on, slightly.

The Mariners (.481 last year, .417 in Spring Training thus far) looked to have one of the hottest–or at least fastest–outfields in baseball this year. They may yet, but thanks to some fan- and player-vexing injuries, it won’t be at the start of the season.

In need of help, they turned to the free agent market and picked up a 44-year-old left fielder out of Japan.

For a decade, Ichiro was the face of the Mariners. Gone for half a decade. Now he’s back.

I’ve got mixed feelings about the situation, as do many Mariners fans. We miss the Ichiro of the mid-2000s–but we know that’s not who’s joining the team. We thrive on nostalgia and swoon when a well-loved player returns and does well–but we remember the crash-and-burn ending to Ken Griffey Junior’s career.

There’s no question Ichiro can still perform at a major league level. Whether he can do it as an everyday player remains to be seen. We want–need–him to succeed. In theory, he only needs to play every day until the injured players come back. If that’s the way it works out, he should be able to slide back into a fourth outfielder/pinch hitter/late inning replacement role as he’s done with the Marlins and Yankees. But trouble comes in bunches, and there’s no telling whether everyone will come back on the currently-projected timetable.

If one can believe the newspaper reports from 2012, his trade to the Yankees came at his own suggestion, because he felt he could contribute more to the Mariners that way than on the field. If he can’t produce as an everyday player, that same ethic should lead him to retire rather than drag the team down. But that would be a tough choice for anyone, much less a man who wants to play baseball until he’s fifty.

And, of course, it would leave the Ms with an outfielder shortage again–but sometimes there is no good answer to a question.

So we hate the necessity of bringing him back, but love the fact that he’s here. The ovation when he steps onto the field on Opening Day in Seattle will, in all likelihood, rattle windows as far away as Mount St. Helens.

Go Ichiro. Go Mariners.

Downs and Ups

I wouldn’t have thought I’d have reason to be thankful to Chevrolet.

Sunday night, I happened to notice that not only was Chevy paying for parking at Tuesday’s Mariners/Athletics game, but they were also partially subsidizing tickets in one section of normally-cheap seats. So, in theory, one could attend the game and pay only the cost of an abnormally-cheap seat: $5.

I decided to go.

That five dollar ticket wound up costing $10.25 by the time all the various fees were added, but considering that parking alone is normally $20, I was still well ahead.

The expedition didn’t start well. On Monday I got an email from the As informing me that the parking lots would open at 2:00, and they expected the lots to be filled to capacity. So I left earlier than I normally would have for a 7:00 game, figuring to watch batting practice, and generally groove on the experience. When I arrived at 3:15–and, for the record, there were a half-dozen cars lined up when I got there–the gates were locked and the guard was adamant that they wouldn’t open “until sixteen hundred”. He liked that phrase, and repeated it several times during our brief conversation.

Once they finally let us all into the parking lot, we had another wait because the gates to the stadium didn’t open until 4:30. And yes, we had to go through metal detectors. Empty pockets, let them search our bags; at least we got to keep our shoes on. The new normal.

Finally inside, I made my way to the food truck plaza. Back in February I expressed some concern about traffic flow in and out of the plaza. I didn’t have any trouble, but the only entrance I found was through a narrow hallway where ushers and food service workers were gathered and clocking in. I can’t imagine that the hallway clogs with pedestrians closer to game time.

Once you make it out to the plaza, though, it’s quite nice.
10-1
I don’t know if I was too early or if plans have changed, but the promised “eight to 16” trucks were actually five. But they all looked good. I eventually settled on a catfish po’boy from Southern Comfort Kitchen.
10-2
Very tasty, though a bit more vegetation would have been nice. Catfish needs roughage.

In retrospect, I’m very glad I didn’t go to the regular food stands. Wednesday, Sports Illustrated released their health ratings of MLB stadium food sellers. They only got data for 28 of the 30 ballparks, but the Coliseum’s food stands ranked 27th. (Note to Jackie: Camden Yards ranked 26th. Bring your own dinner!)

I knew my seat wasn’t going to be the greatest, but it turned out to be worse than I feared.
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Okay, not quite that bad. Here’s another look with enough zoom to more accurately represent how it was with the naked eye:
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Not so bad as all that, you might think. The problem is that I’m somewhat acrophobic. Every time I leaned forward, I saw this:
10-5
I didn’t even make it all the way through batting practice. Fifteen minutes after I sat down, my arm was aching from the death-grip I had on my chair. Since there didn’t seem to be any chance of installing a seat belt, I admitted defeat and paid to upgrade to a seat on the lower level.
10-6
That red asterisk marks my original seat as seen from my upgraded spot.

On the bright side, they only charged me the difference in price and didn’t add any new service charges or handling fees.

I’m going to digress here. I know, what a surprise, right? The rise of electronic and print-at-home tickets is robbing us of emotionally-valuable souvenirs. Would you really want something like this as a keepsake?
10-7
Too big to keep pristine, flimsy printer paper, three different barcodes, and an advertisement. Not the stuff of which memories are made, not when compared to the real thing, printed on cardboard, crisp and shiny.
10-8
It screams “Baseball!” where the first example could be a ticket for anything.

Okay, digression over. Surrendering the cheap seat was the low point of the evening. I was the only person in the entire section in my original seat; downstairs I was sitting right behind a group of four Mariners fans taking a mini-vacation. In front of them was a family of five from the Netherlands taking a decidedly non-mini vacation. They were rooting for the As, but the kids, all under ten, were so happy to be at the ballpark that I forgave their sin. It was the last day of a tour around California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada and the parents were obviously tired. But they stayed for the entire game–and, I can’t help but point out, the kids stayed awake and involved the whole time. Better than all too many adults in these benighted times.

Not that the game started well for the Mariners. The As scored three in the first, and by the end of the fifth inning they were leading 6-2. Adding insult to injury, the As’ final run came on a homerun, after which everyone in our section of the stadium was awarded a coupon for a free pizza. Or at least something resembling pizza.
10-9
(Pardon the added text. I wouldn’t want anyone to be tempted to try to scam a freebie from Round Table by printing a copy. Or at least not without doing some work to clean it up first.)

In fairness, my objections to Round Table have more to do with their advertising slogan than their food. The latter is unobjectionable at worst. The former–“The last honest pizza”–is offensive at best.

Then the evening improved. The kids from the Netherlands made it onto the big scoreboard screen, much to their delight. And the Mariners stopped giving up runs and started scoring them. It was 6-4 after six innings, 6-5 after seven, and tied at six after eight. No scoring in the ninth, so we even got extra baseball before the Mariners won it in the tenth thanks to a two-out homerun. Can’t write it any better than that.

Earlier in the evening, around the time the As were taking that 3-0 lead, Kansas City and Tampa Bay were losing their games. So Wednesday morning the Wild Card standings looked rather interesting, and not just from the perspective of a Mariners fan.
10-a

Mind you, with the Mariners winning again Wednesday and both the Rays and Royals* losing again, the standings are even more pleasant now, but that’s beside the point.

* In case you weren’t watching the Royals lose to the Cardinals last night, it took a cat to give the Cards the victory:

Heck of a roller coaster ride Tuesday.

Thanks, Chevy.

SAST 06

I need to close out a few open issues from recent blog posts, so it’s time for a Short Attention Span Theater.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a poor QA/good customer service issue I had with the Project Fi Travel Trolley.

I’m pleased to report that Swyft customer support came through with the promised travel socks. And they’re just as silly as we had hoped.

Let’s be clear: these aren’t the full height compression socks designed to prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis. These are ankle socks. But they have little rubberized bumps on the underside to prevent slippage when you take your shoes off to go through the TSA’s scanners. If you follow the often-quoted advice to take off your shoes on the plane and walk up and down the aisle a couple of times during the flight, they should be fine for that. They even seem rugged enough to wear to bed so you can stagger into the bathroom in the middle of the night without having to hunt for slippers.

Most importantly, though, they’re black, they’re fuzzy–kind of snuggly, in fact–and they’ve got a Project Fi logo on the side. Amusing. And I intend to wear them next time I fly.

And I will test the Travel Trolley again.

Moving on.

Last Thursday, I mused a little about the Mariners’ attempt to get above .500 for the first time this year.

Not only did they win Thursday night behind rookie Andrew Moore, but they also won Friday behind veteran Felix Hernandez.

Friday, they also sent Moore back to the minors. Weird game, baseball.

No, it wasn’t because they were displeased with his performance. Whoever made up the schedule decided the Ms needed two days off this week. Never mind that the All-Star Break is less than two weeks away and will bring almost everyone in the league a four-day holiday.

But with both Monday and Thursday off, the Ms didn’t really need five starting pitchers, so Moore went down to AAA. Chances are he’ll be back with the Mariners sooner rather than later.

But I digress. After that victory Friday the Ms were two games over .500. Celebrations ensued.

Saturday and Sunday, they lost to Houston, the team with the best record in baseball. Tuesday and Wednesday, they lost to Philadelphia, the team with the worst record in baseball.

Just like that, they’re back in familiar territory, two games short of respectability.

But that’s the Mariners for you. Ever since Houston came over from the National League, the Mariners have had trouble beating them. And losses breed.

Even with the losses, though, the Mariners are still only three games out of the Wild Card. Of course, the are eight other teams at three games out or less, so it’s a bit of an uphill climb.

Based on their performance so far this season, I expect the Mariners to bounce around .500 for the next few weeks, until they go to Houston July 17. That’ll put them in a short decline. They’ll recover and get back to .500 or a bit more in August, make a serious run at the Wild Card–and then go into a nose dive when the Astros come to Seattle September 4.

Because Mariners.

Moving on.

Apple is promoting the new iPad Pro it introduced earlier this month. The commercials are in heavy rotation during baseball games.

That’s expected. What isn’t is how stereotyped the ads are. The emo girl who hates everything. The power addict who literally explodes with pleasure. The ghost of a dead laptop.

Really, Apple? If you can’t give us a revolutionary computer–and let’s face it, the iPad Pro may be a heck of a good computer, but it’s neither years ahead of the competition nor unique–can’t you at least give us a revolutionary ad or two? One that doesn’t rely on the same easy compartmentalization we’ve seen in the media for far too long?

That’s How They Make Diamonds

A quick note on yesterday’s Mariners’ game: apparently the kid, better known as Andrew Moore, doesn’t have a problem with pressure. Seven innings, six hits, three runs, four strikeouts, and no walks. Not bad. Not bad at all. Welcome to the big leagues.

Not so much so for Max Povse who also made his MLB debut last night, coming on in relief for Moore: two-thirds of an inning, four hits, three runs, one strikeout. At least he didn’t walk anyone either. Hopefully he’s got that out of his system and he’ll settle down in his next appearance.

Anyway, the Ms are a game over .500 for the first time this season, in sole possession of second place in the AL West–12.5 games behind Houston.

The Mariners had excellent baseball weather. Really. IMNSO, a high in the low seventies and clear skies is just about perfect.

It wasn’t that nice here. Our high was 99. That was outside. Inside, upstairs where I hang out–because that’s where my computer is–it was hotter.

You know who else hangs out upstairs? Rufus.

Do you know what happens to cats when it’s hot?

Their bones turn into jelly, and you wind up with furry puddles of feline scattered around the floor.

Rufus, he’s no dummy. He found a spot directly in front of the air conditioner, and he spent the day like this:
23-1

Yes, I made sure he was breathing before I took the picture. Just to be certain.

Tomorrow is supposed to be cooler. I can’t wait.

Neither can Rufus.

Should We Be Happy?

Weird game, baseball.

In what other sport would doing something legal–something that players do multiple times every day–provoke so much condemnation?

Yeah, I’m talking about last night’s Mariners’ game. Through the first five innings, the Ms looked a lot like my nephew’s Little League team at the plate. All credit to Justin Verlander of the Tigers; he had everything clicking, and he had a perfect game going.

Granted, there was a lot of game left. The chances that he would have stayed perfect the rest of the way were slim. Remember, there have only been 23 perfect games in MLB’s century-plus history.

Not to unduly prolong the suspense, with one out in the sixth inning and four runs behind, the Mariners’ Jarrod Dyson bunted himself aboard. No more perfect game. Five batters after that, the Mariners were only one run down, and Verlander was out of the game. The Ms picked up four more runs the next inning, and won the game.

Pretty smart move by Dyson, huh?

Well…see, baseball has this thing called the “unwritten rules”. That’s no different than any group, really. There’s no law forbidding you to pick your nose in public, but you probably don’t, fearing the scorn of society. Same thing here. The unwritten rules say you don’t bunt to break up a perfect game.

So, Dyson was violating the rules?

Maybe not. The problem with unwritten rules is that they’re unwritten. There’s no Moses carrying a carved tablet down from Cooperstown, New York after his interview with Abner Doubleday.

Some people say the rule only applies in the eighth and ninth innings. Others say it applies all the time–unless you’re down by less than three runs. Still others say “What the hell are you talking about? The only rule is ‘do what you have to to win’!”

Take your pick.

As far as the Mariners and their fans are concerned, though, the most important result of Dyson’s bunt and the team’s subsequent rally is that the Mariners are at .500.

Yeah, 37-37. The last time they were respectable was May 10, when they were 17-17. Before that? 0-0.

The All-Star Break is approaching. The actual midpoint of the season is even closer. And the Mariners have a chance to go over .500 for the first time all season.

That’s big, folks. Really big. Right now, they’re only a game and a half out of the Wild Card. Seriously. The American League sucks this year. It’s quite possible that the final playoff spot could go to a team with a losing record. Not likely, but possible. But in any case, the next few games will be a big factor in whether the Ms decide to sell off players to be better next year, or buy to improve now.

And there are the Mariners, winners of four in a row, looking to extend the streak. They’re going to do everything they can to get past that psychological barrier at .500 and turn themselves into winners, right? Go with their best pitcher and everything.

Well…

Actually, tonight’s starting pitcher is a rookie making his major league debut.

The Mariners’ pitchers have been injury-prone this year*, and part of their less-than-stellar record has been the inconsistent performance of the guys who’ve filled in. Making it back to .500 is a minor miracle, all things considered.

* To be fair, it’s not just the pitchers. At times it’s seemed like the entire team’s been on the disabled list–all at once.

But rather than working with the known quantity that’s gotten them this far, they’re going to take a step into the unknown. In a game that, in a very real sense, will determine the direction of the entire rest of the season for the Mariners.

No pressure, Kid.

Weird game, baseball.

Limping Into Summer

Before I get into today’s real subject, let me take just a moment to remind you that The RagTime Traveler will be released June 6, exactly two weeks from today. June 7, I’ll be signing copies from noon to 1pm at Seattle Mystery Bookshop. Spread the word!

Moving on.

I haven’t written much about baseball this season, largely because it’s been a rather painful year for Seattle–no pun intended. The season has been marred by injuries, bad play, and an overall failure to live up to expectations.

But I can’t keep pulling the covers over my head and hoping the team will improve. So I’m going to pick at the scab a little.

The Mariners are among the youngest teams in Major League Baseball. Only the Rockies and Marlins (founded 1993) and Diamondbacks and Rays (founded 1998) are younger. The Mariners and Blue Jays both joined the league in 1977. I don’t know what, if anything, Toronto is doing to celebrate their team’s 40th anniversary, but Seattle’s advertising theirs fairly heavily.

Apparently, fortieth birthdays can be as depressing for baseball teams as for individuals. As I write this–before any teams take the field on May 23–the Mariners are 20-25, having lost three straight, and sit ten games behind Houston in the AL West. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays won their last game to pull to 19-26, eight and a half games behind New York in the AL East (and one game behind the Mariners in the Wild Card chase, not that either team is showing any sign of contending for those playoff slots).

At least I can take some consolation in the fact that the Mariners aren’t alone in their struggles.

It’s got nothing to do with youth, by the way. Colorado and Arizona are currently first and second in the NL West. Tampa Bay is three games ahead of Toronto, flirting with respectability. Only Miami, at 15-28, is making the middle-aged couple look good.

In case you’re curious, by the way, the next-oldest teams are the Kansas City Royals (18-26), San Diego Padres (16-30), Washington Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos, 26-17), and Milwaukee Brewers (formerly the Seattle Pilots, 25-19). The evidence suggests that teams who indulge their mid-life crises by moving to another city do well for themselves. But let’s note that the Pilots’ mid-life crisis was when they were a year old. Don’t read too much into the raw numbers.

Anyway, given the fortieth anniversary hype around the Mariners, I started wondering how this year’s team compared to the 1977 team.

For starters, going into play on May 23, the Mariners had won two in a row, raising their record to 16-28. That put them eleven and a half games behind the first place Twins–but a mere four and a half games behind Oakland.

I haven’t found a way to look at player stats as of a particular date, but over the course of the season, Seattle’s leading hitters (based on OPS*) were Leroy Stanton (.852), Ruppert Jones (.778), and Dan Meyer (.762).

* OPS is on-base percentage plus slugging. Today’s statisticians consider it a better measure of a hitter’s value than batting average, which was the stat of choice in 1977. An OPS between .700 and .766 is considered average; an elite hitter will have an OPS above .900.)

Doesn’t sound too hot, does it? If you look at the team as a whole, the Mariners’ batters ranked twenty-first out of twenty-six teams. (The Blue Jays, by the way, ranked twenty-fifth.)

Nor did the numbers look much better defensively. Seattle’s pitchers, led by Enrique Romo and Glenn Abbott, collectively ranked twenty-fifth. (Amusingly, the Blue Jays’ pitchers came in twenty-first.)

The bright side, if you can call it that, was the Mariners’ fielding. Showing off the defensive emphasis that served them so well in the early two-thousand teens*, they came in twelfth in baseball. The Blue Jays showed off their consistency, coming in twenty-fifth in fielding.

* Sarcasm alert.

Given those stats, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to hear that the 1977 Mariners would finish the year at 64-98, thirty-eight games out of first. What might be more surprising is that they didn’t finish dead last in the AL West. Oakland slogged through a 63-98 year to take the West basement. Toronto, meanwhile, proved that consistency isn’t necessarily a virtue. Their 54-107 mark was the worst in baseball that year.

* If you need a dose of schadenfreude, the worst record in MLB’s modern era belongs to the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics, whose 36-117 (.235) sets a standard of futility that will hopefully never be matched. By comparison, the 1977 Blue Jays’ .335 is merely the twenty-third worst, tied with the 1988 Baltimore Orioles (sorry, Jackie).

By comparison with all that doom and gloom, today’s Mariners seem positively respectable. Nelson Cruz has a .947 OPS, twenty-second best in baseball. As of this writing, the team is eleventh in hitting, twenty-fifth in pitching, and eleventh in fielding. Get a few of their starting pitchers off the disabled list, and the Ms could be middle-of-the-pack Wild Card contenders.

OK, that doesn’t sound like much, but it’s all about setting attainable goals. And, lest we forget, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals finished the regular season 83-78 and won the World Series.

More Ups and Downs

The roller coaster ride continues.

When I last wrote about the MLB playoff chase, Seattle was two games out of the Wild Card with forty-five games remaining. As I said then, they were relevant.

At one point–August 20-22–they were actually the top non-Wild Card team, a mere one game behind the Orioles. Since then, they’ve been as far out as six games back and as close as two.

Before today’s games, they were (wait for it) two games out of the Wild Card. Exactly where they were, except that now there are only ten games left.

They’re still relevant, and they could still make the playoffs, but the odds aren’t nearly as high as they were a month ago. FiveThirtyEight has them at 15%. Ouch.

On the brighter side, they’re at 80-72, so they only need to win three more games to secure a winning season. Not that that’s much of a consolation.

Seven wins would equal their total from 2014. Doable, but unlikely. Less likely, even, than making the playoffs (FiveThirtyEight has their expected final record at 85-77.)

I’m ironically amused to note that my two fallback teams (the Giants and Mets) are currently two of the three teams tied for the NL Wild Card–with a record of 80-72. New York has a 75% chance of making the playoffs and San Francisco, thanks to their embarrassing string of blown games since the All Star Break, is at 59%.

I take some consolation–not much, but some–in the fact that the hated Yankees are given a mere 7% chance of making the playoffs.

But, heck, two games back? Totally doable. It’ll take a lot of help*, but it could happen.

* Detroit, Houston, and either Boston, Toronto, or Baltimore would need to lose a bunch of games, and Houston is the only one of the five with games left against Seattle.

It could. I’ll take odds of one chance in six*–which is probably why I suck at Yahtzee.

* OK, one in six and two-thirds. Close enough.

Seattle has the day off today. Detroit, their primary competition outside of Houston, is playing a doubleheader against the Twins today. A pair of Minnesota victories would drop the Tigers into a tie with the Mariners. A pleasant thought, that.

Anyway, there’s another week and a half on this roller coaster–and the similar ones fans in Detroit, Houston, Baltimore, New York, San Francisco, and St. Louis are riding. Please keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times.