On Monday night, the Seattle Mariners did something they’ve been doing a lot of lately—winning baseball games, baby. This particular game featured some things that most of their other recent wins have not, including 1) a good team as an opponent in the Angels and therefore 1a) two Mike Trout home runs, and 2) a margin of victory greater than one run. It was 5-3, in this case. The Mariners have won a lot of close games of late, and won a lot in general; after Monday’s win, they’ve won nine of their last 11.
That win was a good encapsulation of how they’ve been doing it lately, which is to say in the most inexplicable way possible. Lefty junkball vagabond Wade LeBlanc is currently doing a convincing imitation of a fine, capable starter, and he tossed five sturdy innings of two-run ball as the Ms and Angels swapped dingers all game long. LeBlanc now has posted a 2.45 ERA in 40 1/3 innings through eight starts since the Mariners moved him into the rotation, which is nearly two runs below his career mark. Nelson Cruz, who’s still crushing shit in his age-37 season, also had a pair of dingers last night, including one that rocketed off the bat at 114.6 mph. Denard Span, acquired in a trade after Robinson Cano’s 80-game PED suspension came down, is now in the building, and still sliding and diving around as his beard gets grayer and grayer. Dee Gordon, who’d been faking it in center, slid back to second base. Span’s OPS since coming to Seattle 11 games ago is .892; Gordon is leading all of baseball in steals.
You may have noticed that very little of this really makes sense. The Mariners have gone 19-7 since Cano began serving the suspension, and while it’s mostly been a cupcake stretch—six games against the Rays, preceded by various series against the Rangers, Twins, A’s, and Tigers—that is still 19 wins in 26 games. Things will get harder from here. After the Angels series, the Mariners face the Yankees and Red Sox in consecutive series. These are all teams that won’t necessarily let you get by on one-run luckies, as the Mariners have this season—they’re an astonishing 21-9 in one-run games.
You could point to all the ways in which this is unsustainable, from all the one-run wins piling up to the fact that the Astros have a run differential that’s more than 100 runs higher than the Mariners. But the Mariners are winning games, even without Cano, even with the monument of Felix Hernandez still taking the mound every five games. James Paxton’s gone full-on psychedelic this year, fully taking The Leap or whatever term you prefer after that 16-strikeout game and no-hitter. Mitch Haniger’s a solid guy to have around, and has been solid. Jean Segura’s playing at what would otherwise be an MVP-caliber level in a world in which Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and J.D. Martinez were not all also doing what they are currently doing.
Despite not making a playoff appearance since Ichiro’s dynamo rookie year in 2001, there has long been a contingent of the Baseball Knower community that believed in the Mariners, whether because they’ve always been extremely busy with transactions or because they’ve always had at least a few big stars on hand. And yet, for the better part of two decades, it hasn’t happened. If it wasn’t the Rangers, it was the A’s; now it’s the Astros. That probably won’t change this year, honestly—regression is inevitable at a number of positions, and all of that will show up in the standings. But given how shaky the American League seems beyond the AL East juggernauts and the defending World Series champions in Houston, this could very well be the year those Mariners hang around for a Wild Card push. It probably won’t look like this, but it should at least be more fun than the usual.