Fan: The Mariners are once again worthy of your emotional investment

Okay, be honest. How many of you were ready to give up on the Mariners three weeks ago after that disastrous five-game home streak against the Angels?

Mariners On Fire: Three things that jump out from the stellar run

You had every right to be on edge. Mike Trout hit five home runs in as many games and continued to change his well-documented ownership of the Mariners organization to Aaron Rodgers and the Chicago Bears.

Seattle fell to 10 games under .500 at 29-39 after that streak against the Halos, in which they were shut out twice. Recalling the emotions of that infamous low point makes the last three weeks even more incomprehensible.

That’s because the Mariners are the hottest team in baseball, winning 16 of their last 19 games, including a current eight-game winning streak. Four games over the Blue Jays this weekend gave Seattle a 45-42 record. If the season ended today, the Mariners would be in the playoffs as the third wild card team in the American League.

Now you have to decide once again how much emotional investment you’re willing to afford a team that owns the most famous playoff drought in sports. And while you’re within reason to keep those Mariners at arm’s length for now, there’s enough evidence to suggest that things might be different this time around.

For starters, this team is easy to emulate. We learned that during last year’s fascinating and inexplicable playoff push. Liking one team is as measurable as “fun difference,” but we can certainly agree that there’s value in both. That two-decade absence from the playoffs was filled with apathy and seasons that ended before the calendar even turned to summer. The Mariners lost 90 games seven times during that drought, with two of those teams reaching 100 losses. Seattle has finished last in the AL West 10 times since 2001.

We’ve all gone to games over the years as a fun summer activity with family and friends, with no real hope of enjoying the product on the field. So yes, the joy of watching objectively entertaining players like Julio Rodriguez, JP Crawford, Ty France, Eugenio “Only Good Vibrations” Suarez and countless others is relevant. Mitch Haniger’s Player’s Tribune column, Paul Sewald’s roar after every save, and Jesse Winker’s willingness to fight the entire Angels game also factor into the overall likability of this list.

Suffice to say, if the Mariners fall short this year, you can be sure that your pain will be shared by everyone in the clubhouse.

Beyond this team’s intangibles, and certainly more importantly, its recent success can be sustainable. Seattle’s pitching staff is the best in baseball with a league-leading 2.99 ERA since June 1st. In that span, the Mariners’ arms rank third in opponent batting average (.260), fourth in walk percentage (6.9% ), first in left field in on-base percentage (82.9%) and 11- you in xFIP (3.90). Robbie Ray looks like the reigning AL Cy Young winner, Logan Gilbert deserved a spot on the American League All-Star roster, and Marco Gonzalez has regained form as a reliable innings eater.

In the bullpen, Diego Castillo, Andres Munoz and Sewald have become a dominant trio after a collective slow start to the season. It could be argued that Penn Murfee and Erik Swanson are possible regression candidates, but they will remain valuable weapons even if their production dips a bit. This hypothetical regression also opposes Matt Brash’s arrival in the pen.

Seattle’s lineup is where positive regression is likely, if not expected. There’s no disputing that the Mariners’ pitching staff has carried the team during this run back into the playoff picture. Seattle ranks 14th in wRC+ (106), 22nd in slugging percentage (23.2%) and 23rd in BABIP (.275). That won’t cut it. But Ty France is on the mend and the upcoming returns of Jesse Winker (suspended), Kyle Lewis and Mitch Haniger should bolster those numbers.

Carlos Santana has also been a revelation since coming via trade from Kansas City. Santana hit three home runs in the last two games against the Blue Jays on Saturday and Sunday, and he posted a .282 average and .404 on-base percentage in 12 games with the Mariners. Seattle is 11-1 in those 12 games. It would be shocking if Santana was the only signing before the Aug. 2 trade deadline.

Finally, Seattle’s schedule is remarkably doable. The Mariners last 20 games are against teams that are currently under .500. Also, the last time they will face the AL West-leading Astros (56-29) is July 31st.

The sly train leaves the station and gets louder with each “goldsmith’s growl.” To reiterate, it’s completely understandable if you don’t want to get on board. But to quote the great Michael Scott, “there’s no doubt about it. I’m ready to get hurt again.”

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