Is anybody out there?
I'd imagine if you're reading this, you are either here by accident and really meant to click on the Seattle NFL link or are one of the few brave souls that still believes that professional baseball is alive and well in Pacific Northwest.
All joking aside, the Seattle Mariners on their most recent road trip actually won five of nine against three of the best teams in the American League, including four of six against the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers.
Not bad, I suppose, for a team that many of us had finally given up on following a rough start to the month of August. Yet for all intents and purposes, I think it's safe to say the M's are officially done for 2013 when it comes to discussing the postseason.
So is there anything else worth looking forward to, other than September call-ups?
Beyond the ever-important goal of figuring out how the M's roster may look for next season, perhaps the team can also play spoiler somewhere along the way?
While it may seem like I'm grasping at straws as we approach the end of summer, here are three ways the Mariners can still keep things interesting for those of us who haven't fully shifted gears to the Seahawks or Sounders.
Where do we begin?
AL West Race
At this point the AL West is a two-horse race, with the Rangers and A's running neck and neck.
For the Mariners to play spoiler, they will need to continue playing like they did over the past week on the road by taking two of three from both the Rangers and Athletics.
Yet it's hard to see how the M's will make much of an impact unless they sweep either Texas at the end of this month or interfere with Oakland's chances the final weekend of the season, as the A's may be fighting for either the division or a wild-card spot.
Speaking of the wild card...
Beyond potentially playing spoiler atop the AL West, there is also the chance the M's could play a small part in both the AL and even NL wild-card races.
Starting the first week of September games against Kansas City and Tampa Bay may prove crucial in the wild-card standings. The Rays, though, similarly to Oakland and Texas, could either be leading their division or the wild-card race on any given day from here on out.
As for the Royals, they have quite a bit of work to do in both their own division and the wild card. Oddly enough they will need a lot of help from teams like the Mariners to serve as pushovers face to face while also spoiling every other teams' chances down the stretch.
Meanwhile if we move ahead to mid-September, I will be curious to see how the M's fare on a seven-game stretch at St. Louis and Detroit.
Right now the Cardinals are in a dogfight with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the NL Central, and while Detroit for the moment appears to have a comfortable lead in the AL Central, honestly you never know with Cleveland and Kansas City in striking distance.
For that matter, the only other series of potential interest for the wild card outside the AL West involves the Royals visiting Safeco during the last week of the season. By that point, though, it's quite possible that the Royals will officially be out of the running, unless they catch fire and get lucky, as I mentioned earlier.
As for the rest of the schedule...
With all due respect to the Astros, the battle for third place between the Angels and M's could be a tight one, but are there any real winners here?
Honestly, at the beginning of the season if you had told me that the Mariners would have a very real shot at ending up in third place, I would have been pleased. The problem now is, how do you judge success for a season that has generally been a disappointment?
While it's entirely possible that the Mariners can finish third, who cares if the team ends up winning roughly 75 games in the process?
Wouldn't it be better if it were to win 80 games and finished fourth?
Fact is, as of today if the M's played .500 baseball the remainder of the season, they would finish the year with 77 wins.
Would that qualify as a successful season?
These are questions I struggle with and can only imagine how the rest of the club is dealing with them as we speak.
After five years of Jack Zduriencik serving as general manager, it's hard to say whether or not things are better or worse. Making matters even more confusing is the situation surrounding Jack Z himself and whether he is under contract for another year in Seattle, as described by Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
This season, though, was supposed to provide everyone with answers.
Instead we've been treated to watching a hybrid lineup made up of veterans and youngsters that one minute can dazzle, but the next can just as easily fizzle. With the exception of a few steady performers like Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Kyle Seager, it's proven to be a roller-coaster ride more nauseating than exhilarating.
Unfortunately, the win-some, lose-some approach we've been treated to the majority of the season isn't going to help answer the real questions the Mariners need to get sorted by the end of September.
Between now and then, I'd expect the M's to periodically spoil one team's chances of making the postseason for perhaps a day or two, yet I have trouble seeing them consistently shifting the balance anywhere to have a meaningful impact, with the possible exception of the final weekend of the season, when Oakland comes to town.
At the end of the day, I appreciate how well the Mariners have been playing since the All-Star break, but I can't shake the notion that what we're seeing is in some ways still lacking.
It's a feeling that I struggle to put into words, but if I had to take a shot at it, it would probably boil down to a simple lack of trust.
I honestly can't trust what I'm seeing from three quarters of this roster on a daily basis, both good and bad.
During these final few weeks I, more than anything, will be watching to see if the Mariners can play spoiler of expectations.
Hopefully something happens that will change my thoughts and feelings, but right now I doubt it.
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