The longest active playoff drought in North American professional sports no longer belongs to the Seattle Mariners.
Thanks to Cal Raleigh's walk-off homer in a 2-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Friday the Mariners clinched their first postseason berth since 2001.
Droughtless in Seattle. A walk-off homer sends the <a href="https://twitter.com/Mariners?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Mariners</a> to the postseason.<br><br>(MLB x <a href="https://twitter.com/CapitalOne?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CapitalOne</a>) <a href="https://t.co/BjaugGSyv2">pic.twitter.com/BjaugGSyv2</a>
In the 21 years between playoff appearances, the Mariners have had nine winning seasons and hadn't won more than 90 games prior to this season since 2003 (93-69). The 2001 team tied the MLB record with 116 wins during the regular season, but lost to the New York Yankees in the ALCS.
The Mariners were the only team in the four major professional sports in North America (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) that had a playoff drought of at least 20 years coming into this season.
The Philadelphia Phillies are the only other MLB team that hadn't made the playoffs in at least 10 seasons entering 2022.
Seattle had an opportunity to ends its drought in 2021 with a surprising 90-72 record, but it was eliminated on the final day of the regular season when the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees clinched the American League's two wild card spots.
Rather than rest on their laurels for 2022, general manager Jerry Dipoto made aggressive moves both during the offseason and leading up to the trade deadline to make sure the Mariners were a playoff contender again.
The Mariners signed reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray to a five-year, $115 million contract in December. He turned in another strong season with a 3.58 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 209 strikeouts in 183.1 innings.
Dipoto took advantage of the Cincinnati Reds' offseason fire sale by acquiring Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez in March. Suarez proved to be one of the driving forces in the lineup with a team-high 31 homers.
The Mariners went back to the Reds prior to the trade deadline to acquire Luis Castillo to boost their starting rotation. The right-hander has been excellent since the move, posting a 3.34 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 10 starts with Seattle.
Castillo agreed to a five-year contract extension worth $108 million on Sept. 24. The deal will keep him with the Mariners through the 2027 season with a vesting option for 2028.
The biggest roster decision came at the end of spring training when top prospect Julio Rodriguez made the Opening Day lineup.
"It’s time for Julio Rodríguez to play in the big leagues," Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters on April 4. "He’s just a fun kid, and the joy and the excitement he plays with is contagious. It's going to serve our team very well, and he's a really good player on top of it. It should be fun to see how that plays out."
It played out very well for the Mariners. The 21-year-old Rodriguez is arguably the front-runner for AL Rookie of the Year after making the All-Star team and posting a .280/.342/.502 slash line with 27 homers and 25 stolen bases through 129 games.
The Mariners made Rodriguez the face of their franchise in August by signing him to a contract extension that could end up being worth up to $470 million over 17 years. He has been on the injured list since Sept. 23, but could return to the lineup as soon as Monday.
Despite all of the talent on the roster, things didn't start out well for the Mariners this season. They were 29-39 after a shutout loss to the Los Angeles Angels on June 19. They have gone 57-31 in 88 games since that day.
Playing in the same division as the Houston Astros, who own the AL's best record, made it easy to overlook what the Mariners have accomplished. They have a lineup and pitching staff that ranks in the top eight in the AL in FanGraphs' value metric.
The American League is very deep heading into the postseason, but the Mariners are as dangerous as any team because of their offensive potential and the one-two punch of Ray and Castillo at the top of their rotation.