We are approaching the halfway point of the 2021 season. The Seattle Mariners have played better than just about anyone could expect up to this point. Most places had them winning between 71-73 games this season, yet after 79 games, they sit at 41-38 and on pace to finish at 84-78. Crazily enough, this would be the 12th best season in team history, and the 4th time since 2014 they’ll finish with a winning record.
How good would the Mariners need to play over the second half of the season to actually make it to the playoffs? Or, a better question, to make a run at the playoffs and be involved in the race come the middle of September?
For the Mariners to make it interesting, they’ll need to play at least .600 ball the remainder of the year.
Before we get into how good they need to play, let’s quickly examine the first half of the season. Both their run differential and “awful offense” are better than you would expect.
Some say it’s a sham, since the Mariners have a run differential of -43, the 10th worst in baseball. I think this is a bit misleading, as that differential is skewed by the fact that the Mariners have had some awful losses this year. If you take a look at their ten worst losses and their ten best wins, those losses account for a differential of -76, whereas the wins only count for a differential of 52.
The point is further proven when you push it to 20 games, with the worst 20 accounting for -121 and the best 20 accounting for 85. That run differential essentially comes from the difference in those games, showing that in the other 39 games, they have a run differential of -8. Not great, but much more reasonable.
A healthy Ty France makes this a completely different team. The same goes with the addition of Fraley to the outfield, and Bauers over White/Marmolejos at first. When France came back from his injury in May, the Mariners had the worst offense of all time with a batting average of .197. They are still the worst in baseball but are up to .217 as a team. That means that since he came back, they are hitting around .245, which is actually above league average.
To get an idea of the record they need to put together in the second half, let’s take a look at how the wild card teams have finished over the last few years to get an idea of what sort of “Win window” they would need to get into. We are looking just at the American League since it gives a better measure. Currently, they are 5.5 back in the wildcard column behind the Oakland Athletics and 6.0 behind the Tampa Bay Rays.
In 2020, the top two wild card teams, when extrapolated out, would’ve finished with 94 wins. Both the White Sox and Cleveland were 35-25, which amounts to that number of 94. In 2019, it was Oakland with 97 and Tampa with 96. 2018 was Oakland again with 97 while Cleveland had 91. The Yankees had 91 in 2017 while the Twins had 85. Baltimore and Toronto both finished with 89 in 2016. The Yankees had 87 and the Astros had 86 in 2015. We could keep going, but six years seems like enough data for now.
When you take the average of all those finishes, you get a hair over 91 wins. For the Mariners to get to 91-71, they would need to play the remaining 83 games at 50-33. That’s a win percentage of .602. 50-33 sounds like a lot, but what it comes down to would be winning six out of every ten games, essentially.
Unfortunately, it may be a bit out of reach. Yes, teams get hot, and playing .600 doesn’t sound impossible. That would be like finishing a full season at 98-64, which only four teams in baseball are currently on pace for. The Giants (.641), Red Sox (.608), Astros (.608), and Dodgers (.608). Worse yet, the Mariners have only finished above a .602 winning percentage once in team history.
We don’t have to go back that far to see a stretch of baseball where the Mariners played this well though. Back in 2018, they started the season really well, sitting at 55-31 over the first 86 games of the season. Hey, look at that. Only a few seasons ago, and we found a stretch of games where the Mariners played at the required winning percentage.
It’s not likely for them to get there, but there are bright spots. They’ve played this well so far in 2021 with an injured Marco Gonzalez, Jake Fraley, Kyle Lewis, Dylan Moore, Mitch Haniger, and Ty France. Plus, James Paxton will miss essentially the entire season. It’s not too far of a thought experiment to think that with a bit of luck in the health department, and maybe an additional piece or two, that the Mariners could make a run.
Like the last 40+ years though, I wouldn’t get your hopes up. It’s been a great year for the Mariners, and we’ve seen a lot from the youth. It just doesn’t seem like we are going to be able to get there this season. I’d sure love to be proven wrong though.