2018 was a roller coaster. It didn’t end the way many of us wanted it to, but it was a season full of excitement and hope. And then disaster.
MLB predicted the Mariners playoff chances at over 80% in late June when Seattle held the fourth-best record in baseball at 54-31. They trailed the defending World Champion Houston Astros by just 0.5 games. Fans weren’t discussing if the Mariners would finally reach the postseason, but whether or not they could win the division. Teams like Oakland and Tampa Bay were no longer in the playoff conversation.
Then, Oakland played an impressive stretch of baseball in July. Surely, playing .700 ball couldn’t sustain for the entire season.
And then it did.
To make it worse, the Mariners played roughly .500 ball from the All-Star break on, and missed the postseason by several games as Oakland’s incredible run never halted. Even the Rays found a way to win 90 games to Seattle’s 89. It was nothing short of a disaster that crushed the hopes of fans in Seattle.
Now, the Mariners are in the middle of a rebuild, as GM Jerry Dipoto and Co. are shipping away their franchise players. Mike Zunino and Guillermo Heredia were the first to go, netting Mallex Smith in a trade with Tampa Bay. Then, James Paxton became a Yankee. Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz will play for the Mets in 2019. Most recently, Ben Gamel is now a Milwaukee Brewer.
However, the Mariners are in prime position for a run at contention in the next few years. The team is considerably younger than in 2018. Robinson Cano’s monster contract is off the books (and Felix Hernandez has just one year left on his deal).
The season was no storybook ending. 29 teams out of 30 would agree, but as a rebuild begins in Seattle, one of the most patient fanbases in sports have no exact timetable to see a team that will compete at the top level.
Despite the ending, following the Mariners was one of my highlights of 2018. In the sea of disappointment that was the end of a promising season, there were many highlights that broke through. In the 26 games I attended, I witnessed magical finishes, but others left me sick to my stomach.
My favorite game of 2018: August 25, 2018 vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, Chase Field.
In the sole game I attended outside of Seattle, the Mariners stunned Arizona with late-inning heroics that helped Edwin Diaz earn his 50th save of the season. Kyle Seager was the hero, doubling into the right field corner with 2 outs and 2 strikes in a 3-1 ballgame. The clutch hit scored 2 runs and sent the game into extra innings.
Denard Span hit a home run in the 10th that found the swimming pool in Chase Field and gave Seattle a 4-3 lead. Diaz was rocky in his 50th save to say the least, letting runners onto the corners with no outs. He worked his way out of a jam to win the game, and Chase Field was left in shock.
The game was incredible. Site Co-Expert Ty Gonzalez will one-up anyone in a segment of favorite games in attendance, as he was fortunate to enough to attend James Paxton’s no-hitter in May. However, of the games I attended, no game was filled with more excitement.
Least favorite game of 2018: May 2, 2018 vs. Oakland Athletics, Safeco Field.
Ugh. This game was the definition of a heartbreaker. In the start before his no-hitter in Toronto, James Paxton threw 7 innings of shutout ball and recorded an astounding 16 strikeouts at Safeco Field. He walked off the mound to a standing ovation and a 2-0 lead.
Because of Paxton’s relatively high pitch count (105), Juan Nicasio took the mound looking to set up a save situation for Edwin Diaz. Many fans disagreed with the decision, as Paxton was dominant and seemed downright unhittable.
The fans were even more upset once Nicasio allowed a 2-run home run to Jed Lowrie that tied the game in the 8th. Paxton’s gem was erased, and so was his ability to win the ballgame.
In the 9th, Edwin Diaz’s confusing inability to pitch in non-save situations was showcased, as Mark Canha hit a solo home run that gave Oakland the lead in the 9th. The Mariners were unable to rally in the bottom half of the inning, and the game was over. I left Safeco Field sick to my stomach.
These two games are on the far ends of the excitement spectrum. Many games were extremely entertaining even if some ended in disappointment. That’s baseball.
Honorable mentions for magical endings include a 5-run seventh inning rally against the Tigers, erasing a 4-0 deficit following a horrendous start by Felix Hernandez. Another game was Opening Day, of course, as Edwin Diaz shut the door on the Cleveland Indians to win an exciting 2-1 ballgame.
On the other hand, I was in attendance for the 12-1 abomination against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Zac Rosscup (now a Mariner, of course) threw an immaculate inning against Seattle to win the game. There’s also the game where Albert Pujols had his 3,000th hit, but I was in line to buy food, watching from the TVs that hang in the concourses.
Every baseball fan will suffer from heartbreak and beam with joy from their team within the course of a season, and Mariners fans were exposed to every emotion imaginable. The Mariners held the AL West division lead in June. They also lost their franchise player Robinson Cano for 80 games due to a banned substance suspension.
Despite what many fans believe, 2018 was not a complete disappointment for the Mariners. The first three months of the season portrayed the second half as a pitiful free fall, but playing .500 ball was actually the level the Mariners should have played all year, according to their Pythagorean win-loss record of 77-85.
In an optimistic lens, the Mariners’ failed attempt to make the postseason was a reality check for what the team actually was: a team that could never compete for a World Series the way it was assembled in 2018.
If the Mariners were to make the playoffs in 2018, it would have likely been a one-game exit in the Bronx versus the Yankees in a Wild Card matchup. No playoff team rebuilds the following year, and the Mariners would have probably gone “all in” for 2019, just to come up short against an AL powerhouse like Boston and New York.
For fans, a rebuild is hard to swallow. Just two months ago, I published an article discussing why the Mariners should have looked to compete in 2019. But now, as the top-heavy American League becomes even more unbalanced, a rebuild makes the most sense for Seattle, especially if their contention window is just a few short years away.
2018 was magical. 2018 was also a disappointment. But as years pass, I hope to look back on the season as the start of a rebuild that took them to a World Series.