Only six days remain in the 2014 MLB regular season, but shockingly the Mariners have remained in the playoff hunt. At 83-73, they sit just 2.0 games behind the Royals in the AL Wild Card standings, and the possibility of breaking an excruciating 13-year playoff drought is very much alive.
Three more games against both Toronto and Los Angeles stand in the M’s way, however, so in many respects their playoffs have already begun. Fortunately, while the city of Seattle has not seen the postseason since the magical 2001 campaign, their team’s roster has playoff experience, albeit in a smaller quantity than most of the rest of the AL contenders, most of whom have written much more October history.
Of course, most everything Mariners in the non-Felix category begins with Robinson Cano, who with the oft-contending Yankees saw playoff at-bats on seven occasions (2005-2007, 2009-2012). While his recent October left much to be desired (3 for 40, 0 HR, .182 SLG), he often carried the Bombers in winning time just as he did through the first six months of the year.
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No series better epitomized his ability to get hot at the right time than the 2010 ALCS. In a losing effort to a Texas Rangers team determined to win their first AL pennant, Cano lit up an elite rotation headed by lefties Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson. Cano hit .348/.375/.913 in the six-game series, blasting four homers. Had he received any semblance of help from the rest of the lineup, New York may well have been looking at back-to-back World Series.
But one of Seattle’s newest additions also sports an impressive playoff resume. Austin Jackson is only in his fifth full season in the big leagues, but he has accumulated over 150 plate appearances in the last three years with Detroit.
The last two years Jackson has started slow, posting a sub-.700 OPS in the 2012 and 2013 ALDS. But whether he just needs a few days to get over some October jitters or his play improves as the pressure intensifies, his numbers in the 2012 ALCS and World Series as well as the 2013 ALCS are that of a changed hitter. In each of those three series, he exemplified the ideal leadoff man by recording an OBP of .400 or greater.
The only other position player on the roster with notable playoff at-bats is Endy Chavez, who may not make a Wild Card or ALDS roster. As a Met in 2006, he hit 8 for 35 in the NLDS and NLCS, but since that year he has only seen the field in limited amounts with Texas in 2011 and Baltimore in 2012, receiving a total of six postseason at-bats.
Aug 24, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Seattle Mariners pitcher Fernando Rodney (56) looks skyward after defeating the Boston Red Sox 8-6 at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
On the pitching side, most of the M’s starters would be playoff neophytes. Hisashi Iwakuma won the Japan Series with the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes in 2001, but like Felix Hernandez his entire MLB career has been with Seattle. The only other veteran on the Mariners’ starting staff is Chris Young, who started only one postseason game: 6.2 scoreless innings with San Diego in the 2006 NLDS.
In the bullpen, Lloyd McClendon will likely have to rely on Fernando Rodney even more than usual if the Mariners sneak into one of the Wild Card spots. Rodney has pitched the most innings of anyone on the team, throwing a total of 10.0 IP in 2006 and 2013 with Detroit and Tampa Bay, respectively. However, Rodney did not record a save in either year, so in his role as closer 2014 may be a year of firsts for the 13-year veteran as well.
While Cano and Jackson, largely alone in having recent playoff experience, by themselves pale in comparison to teams like Oakland and Detroit, whose entire core has seen what ALDS and ALCS competition brings, the Mariners do have at least as much experience as Kansas City. The Royals, suffering from baseball’s longest stint without playoff baseball, have little more than James Shields and .167-hitting Raul Ibanez fitting that criteria.
In addition, MLB’s playoffs are so luck-dependent that teams have won the World Series without any real success in the few years prior. Just four years ago, a San Francisco Giants club shocked the baseball world by winning the Series as a heavy underdog to Texas, despite not having made the playoffs since 2003, when Barry Bonds was still wreaking havoc on the league. Juan Uribe and Bengie Molina represented the veteran core, though neither had even as many October trips as Cano.
So, Mariners fans, while just a run to the Wild Card game would be spectacular and appreciated in Seattle more than in most cities, there is no reason to write off higher aspirations. The M’s have, in Cano and Jackson, two guides for the journey through the playoff jungle, and with if a couple young bats and arms can find their groove, in just over a month, this great city could hold two of the four major sports titles.