The Mariners at 72: Winning isn’t lucky

Walk off

Your Seattle Mariners are 46-26.  That’s twenty games over .500, and about 16 more games over the break even point than I believed they’d be with my most optimistic predictions.

The M’s are a puzzle to many observers, especially to those who know nothing more about the team than what they see in the box scores and can plug into sabrmetric measures. How does a team with a +22 run differential hold the fourth best record in the American League?  Their loss on Thursday night cost them their narrow lead over the Astros, who are finally starting to heat up all their thrusters.  But the M’s are still  7-3 over their last ten games, losing a game Rays and  a pair in a series split with the Red Sox.  With the next six games all against the Red Sox and Yankees, there’s still room for a mid-June stumble against the best teams in the east.

But what if they don’t.  There are a few different scenarios I’m thinking of for the Tour de Nasty.  The M’s could have a super trip (for me, that’s anything above .500).  Let’s not be greedy, say 4-2. They arrive in Baltimore with a run differential of +30. Great stuff right?  Still close games in line with their performance, but they bump their record to 23 games over .500 against the best teams in baseball based on winning percentage. Scenario two shows the M’s arriving in the home of the Star Spangled Banner at an even 4-4.  Their run differential stays about the same give or take a few. The nightmare scenario, in my view, is the M’s melt down entirely and they go 2-6 ish.  Or the M’s manage to break even, winning a few in tight, Mariners one-run fashion, but get blown out in two or three games and return with a run differential below +15.

They’re still around 20 games over .500, still trailing the Astros, but they’ve gone toe to toe with the Bosox and Yankees and have only three games left with those bad boys in September.

Will the baseball press continue to claim it’s luck?  Cliff Corcoran of the Athletic said the M’s run of one-run wins is not sustainable, that they are basically “coin flips.” though I suspect if you asked Ben Gamel, Mike Zunino and Denard Span about their effort to claw back from last night’s 6-3 deficit and win the game late 7-6, they’d find much relationship to tossing quarters.

Jeff Sullivan on Fangraphs, a former writer for USS Mariner and Lookout Landing, well acquainted with and exhausted by the Mariners’ losing ways’ acknowledges the M’s clutch pitching and offensive performances, calls them an “adequate team,” but labels their performance to date, a mirage.

Ben Lindbergh, writing for The Ringer, calls the M’s a fluke, and also attributing their winning ways to luck.  He cites their modest position for pitching, 7th in park adjusted FIP, 8th in non-pitcher wRC+, and 16th in park-adjusted defensive efficiency.  However Lindbergh also connects the Mariners’ flukiness with their current position with their years of absence from playoff baseball.  Therefore, if they fluke their way into the playoffs, well, they deserved it, they’ve endured so much.  Gee, thanks I think.

If you’re reading this, hey I’m just a fan like you.  Probably, like you Mariners fan, I’m outraged when I read that my team’s daily travails to win a game by one run is meaningless, it’s on the same level as betting red on the roulette wheel.  I say that because I watch most games on television and they struggle to score, get a lead and keep it.  Why?  Because baseball is a hard game, dammit. The M’s haven’t had many blowouts this season, have BEEN blown out a few times and that accounts for their tiny run differential.

I get cranky when I hear comments that the M’s success this year is simply lucky, they are winning on a coin flip, they can’t sustain this success.  I have read not one critique that can explain their one run win success.   There isn’t a sufficient objective mathematically-driven tool that explains it, so the only explanation must be luck, coin flips and flukes. Writers soaked in sabermetrics can’t explain it so it must be magic.  Their certain downfall has biblical certainty.  Their success wasn’t predicted by projection tools at the beginning of the season, therefore it can’t be real, it doesn’t fit the narrative, it must be fake, flukey or whatever lucky is.

This is who we are.  We just took two from your beloved Red Sox.   .  The Mariners are 23-10 in one run games.  But they’re also 9-8 in blowouts.  6-0 in extra inning games.  This is not luck.  This is who the Mariners are.  They are guts.  They have chemistry.  They know how to win, perhaps without the beatdown offense and flash of New York, Boston, and Houston.  But ask the Red Sox if the M’s are lucky.  They got knocked out of first place in the east on Saturday.  Okay, it was just for a day but we’ll take it.

Go M’s

 

 

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