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Mariners strong start offers hope this is the year the postseason drought ends

SEATTLE — For two months in the summer, all the stereotypes about Seattle disappear. Starting July 4 through August, the weather is beautiful. There’s little rain, plenty of sunshine and temperatures that range between the 70s and 80s, but rarely touch the 90s.

For most, that would be perfection. But a large number of locals yearn for the rain to return. They invite the early darkness and the plummeting temperatures because those things signal the start of football season. And football season brings happier memories for Seattle sports fans.

The Seattle Mariners have a reputation. The past 16 seasons have come and gone without a single postseason game. Yes, the Mariners’ postseason drought is old enough to drive. That makes it the longest current playoff drought among any professional American sports team.

Things might be different this year. With July a few weeks away, the Mariners aren’t on the periphery of the wild card, they’re challenging for the best record in baseball despite losing their best player, Robinson Cano, to an 80-game suspension. At 44-25, the Mariners have more wins than every team in baseball except the Boston Red Sox, who defeated Seattle 2-1 on Thursday.

Their performance has been good enough to draw the attention of opposing managers. Prior to Thursday’s game, Red Sox skipper Alex Cora had nothing but good things to say about the team Mariners’ general manager Jerry Dipoto put together.

“They have a good team,” Cora says. “Their GM the past few years has done a good job moving and making trades and trying to find the right mix.

“They have one of the best pitchers in the league in [James] Paxton. Their bullpen is outstanding with Edwin [Diaz] finishing the games. They traded for [Alex] Colomé so now they have basically two closers going in the eighth and ninth. [James] Pazos has been great. It’s a tough team.”

While Cora is buying the hype, there are some who see the team’s start as unsustainable. The team’s +26 run differential has come into question, as has its 21-10 record in one-run games.

Based on their run differential, the Mariners should be sitting closer to 37-31, according to Baseball Prospectus. Past research done by the site also suggests most teams should produce a .500 record in one-run games. The Mariners have a .677 winning percentage in those games.

The bullpen has been a big part of that. The team’s 3.69 ERA ranks 11th, but that doesn’t do the relievers justice. They’ve combined for the fourth best strikeout rate and third lowest walk rate in baseball.

A bullpen that good should steal more one-run games than the average team. Though it’s fair to worry about sustainability. Are Edwin Diaz, James Pazos, Alex Colomé and the rest really this good? And if so, can they continue to sustain that success as their workload increases? While Diaz and his 2.50 ERA has been fantastic, he’s also appeared in 36 games, which is tied for the most of any reliever in baseball.

Edwin Diaz has been the biggest weapon in the Mariners’ dominant bullpen. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The team isn’t thinking about that just yet. The focus in on the present, and the team knows there’s still a long road ahead.

“It’s still mid-June, so we know there’s a lot of baseball left to play,” says catcher Mike Zunino.
Second baseman Dee Gordon expressed a similar sentiment, saying the team still has “a long way to go.”

The day-by-day approach is probably smart right now. On Monday, the Mariners began a grueling stretch in which they’ll play 13 straight games against three of the best teams in baseball. It began with a series against the Los Angeles Angels, which the Mariners swept, and continued with the Red Sox on Thursday. After that four-game series concludes, Seattle will go on the road to play the New York Yankees before taking on Boston for a three-game set at Fenway Park.

While that presents an opportunity for the Mariners to prove this start is for real, Zunino isn’t looking at it that way.

“It’s a good test of what we are when we play those guys,” he says. “But it does not define what we’ve done or how we’re playing.”

The fans know 13 games in June won’t make or break the Mariners. They’ve been through this before. They’ve seen the team start strong only to falter when it mattered. They’ve endured seasons where the team faltered from the start.

That’s not lost on Zunino.

“They’ve been patient with us in the past few years,” he says. “It’s been a long time coming. It’s fun to go out there and play winning baseball — play winning baseball at home for these fans and really do it for them.”

The Mariners’ strong start offers hope that maybe this is the year it’s for real. As summer hits Seattle, there’s an opportunity for the Mariners to change their reputation. So that when the calendar turns to September, fans will cope with the shorter days by watching more baseball games in long sleeves under the lights.

And when the weather does turn, maybe Mariners fans will remember it also rains in October.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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