SEATTLE — It's (finally almost) happening.
ESPN projections indicate the Seattle Mariners have a 99.2% chance of securing a playoff spot this year, which would snap the 21-year streak without postseason baseball. (Barring an incredible collapse that I hope will not happen because I typed this clarifying sentence.)
Yes, those much-maligned Mariners are at the doorstep of breaking the unenviable streak.
As it stands Wednesday, the Mariners would be the sixth seed in the playoffs. Seattle trails the Toronto Blue Jays by 2.5 games for the fourth seed and the Tampa Bay Rays by 0.5 games for the fifth seed. The Baltimore Orioles are five games behind the Mariners and would need a remarkable finish to the season to sneak into the playoffs.
Now the question remains, of course, is what wild card spot and opponent would be the best possible path for the Mariners' playoff run in 2022.
Each wild card spot has its share of pros and cons.
Pros: Home-field advantage over the fifth seed in the playoffs.
Major League Baseball (MLB) added two more playoff teams in 2022, bringing the overall total to 12.
That wrinkle means the third and fourth seed in the wild-card round will have home-field advantage and, if necessary, they'd host all three playoff games in the series. The lower-seeded team, in this case the fifth seed, has to find a way to win two road games to advance to the divisional round.
The No. 4 seed would also guarantee Mariners fans get to see at least two home playoff games at T-Mobile Park this season. The other two spots don't offer the same guarantee.
Cons: A (theoretically) tougher matchup in the Divisional Round if they advance.
The winner of the No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup will advance to play the Houston Astros (98-51), the No. 1 seed in the American League. The difference in the quality of the opponent may be negligible, however, depending on how you feel about the New York Yankees.
Houston has nine more wins than the Yankees this season and has allowed the second-fewest runs in baseball (474). The Astros have been remarkably consistent all season, unlike the Yankees that showed they can be mired in long slumps during the season.
Pros: The satisfaction of winning more games than the last wild card team.
Cons: Literally everything else.
Let's keep this one short and sweet. The fifth seed is the worst spot for the Mariners to finish because A) they'd be on the road during the entire wild-card round and B) still have to go through the top-seeded Astros in the ensuing round.
Pros: Facing the easiest AL playoff team in the wild-card round and setting up a divisional matchup against the Yankees, who have been susceptible to extended funks.
On the surface, you'd think the sixth and final playoff spot would be the least desirable position to be in.
Instead, by virtue of the MLB's new playoff rules, the No. 6 seed is actually quite a good place to be in. For one, you'd face the third-seeded Cleveland Guardians, who have the worst run differential (+39) among projected American League playoff teams. They currently have the worst record, too.
If they found a way to advance, the Mariners would tee up a matchup against the Yankees.
But it's worth noting that the Yankees have a higher run differential (+210) than the Astros (+208) and have the second-best offense in baseball (737 runs). Aside from a disastrous 4-14 record in early August, the Yankees have been on par with the Astros for most of the season.
Cons: Three potential road games in the wild card and a bruised ego because they wouldn't have made the postseason without the expanded format.
And that's about it. Everything else shapes up favorably for the sixth seed.
Current AL playoff picture as of Wednesday afternoon:
- Houston Astros (98-51)
- New York Yankees (89-58)
- Cleveland Guardians (81-67)
- Toronto Blue Jays (84-64)
- Tampa Bay Rays (82-66)
- Seattle Mariners (81-66)