This is a story that has engulfed the baseball world as a whole, but its sting is just a little bit sharper for the Seattle Mariners and their fan-base. When the Houston Astros joined the American League West in 2013, no one could have predicted that they would be the focal point of a cheating scandal that would rock Major League Baseball to its core but also alter the Mariner’s potential postseason fortunes. The Commissioner’s report states that the cheating took place between the beginning of the 2017 season and ended sometime in 2018. Whether it even ended there since they weren’t caught until a few months ago is up for debate. It’s easy to play Monday Morning Quarterback looking back on the 2018 season and condemning the Astros for the Mariners missing the playoffs again, but was that the only element at play?
In 2017, the Mariners finished with an overall record of 78-84, considerably out of a wild card spot. So to debate whether or not the Astors costs the Mariners a couple of games, even three or four, is probably a moot point as they were not in position to compete for a postseason berth. But 2018 was a different story, and per the report, the cheating continued into the 2018 season and for most people’s money, probably far beyond that point as well. In 2018 the M’s finished with a mark of 89 wins and 73 losses. It felt as if this could be the year the Mariners break through and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2001, but as history would have it, or maybe as the Astros would have it, it wasn’t to be.
Everything seemed to be coming together for the Mariners in 2018. Their lineup was certainly much deeper and more talented than it had been since the Kingdome days. It featured hitters such as Jean Segura who mustered a .304 average coupled with 20 stolen bases. Mitch Haniger had a breakout campaign, hitting .285 with 26 homers while driving in 93 runs. Nelson Cruz was well, Nelson Cruz. He only hit .256, but put 37 balls out of the ballpark and drove in 97 runs. Add in some complementary bats like Dee Gordon who swiped 30 bags, Kyle Seager who swatted 22 homers and Ryon Healey adding another 24 homers of his own, the Mariners had a lineup that could contend with anyone.
While the the Mariners weren’t stellar on the mound, they were certainly serviceable. Felix wasn’t vintage Felix, but at his age he wasn’t expected to be and posted a 8-14 record with a not so great 5.55 ERA. The Mariners relied on the likes of Wade Leblanc and James Paxton to carry the load, each pitching over 160 innings with sub 4 ERA’s. Serviceable, not sexy.
So are the Houston Astros the reason that the longest postseason drought in professional American sports still belongs to the Seattle Mariners? To some extent, but in my estimation, there were self inflicted wounds that barred the Mariners from the postseason in 2018.
The Seattle Mariners actually finished the season series about the Houston Astros with a 10-9 mark. They won, more than they lost. If the Astros didn’t employ a trash can-video surveillance- relay system, could they have eked out another win or 2 on the season versus the ‘Stros? Sure, that’s not out of the question, but 90-91 wins wasn’t getting them where they wanted to go either. So although it’s very easy to point to the Astros and declare them cheaters, which they most certainly are, in my opinion, the Mariner’s only have themselves to blame.
Robinson Cano started off the 2018 season strong, racking up a .303 average with 10 dingers and 50 runs batted in until he was dealt an 80 game suspension for PED usage. Felix Hernandez, as mentioned previously, posted a 5.55 ERA in a very pitcher friendly park. James Paxton only threw roughly 160 innings due to a back injury. These were key players for the Mariners heading into the season. These were veteran leaders that the club needed to step up and rely on. But when your most complete hitter misses half a season because he used performance enhancing drugs, the guy you expect to be your new workhorse can only give you 160 or so innings because he always finds himself on the disabled list and your “King” posts numbers more suited for a jester, you probably won’t find much success.
If Cano didn’t get suspended for cheating, if Paxton wasn’t a walking injury and Felix was able to turn back the clock just a little bit, maybe they would have made the playoffs regardless of the Astros cheating ways. You can point out that the Astros, maybe, cost the Mariners a game or two in the standings, even three if you are so inclined, and you would be entitled to do so. But to argue that the reason the Seattle Mariners missed the playoffs for the 17th straight season in 2018 only because the Astros are cheaters, simply isn’t accurate.