Baseball Explainer

The Seattle Mariners Could Clinch a Playoff Spot Today

The longest postseason drought in major league sports may be about to end. How are we feeling, everyone?

By Margaret Seiler September 30, 2022

Jesse Winker hit a home run in June against the Oakland Athletics. The Mariners plays the A’s again tonight, and a victory would clinch a playoff spot.

We don't need to get into who has the better food scene or the worse traffic between Portland and our rivals to the north; we're just going to admit there are some big-city charms Seattle has that Portland does not. There's an active public waterfront, an architecturally magnificent downtown library that isn't currently closed for three months, a bustling International District close to downtown with an Uwajimaya and a Daiso, a WNBA team, a new NHL team that's a marketing success story, and not just a Major League Baseball team but a Major League Baseball team whose postseason drought—the longest current postseason drought in any major league sport, at 21 years—could end in a matter of hours.

According to numerous very important and scientific surveys of, um, Facebook fans or something, Portland is firmly in Mariners territory. They are our home team. Even if you are a Portlander who detests the very idea of Seattle or are tied up in Cascadia soccer rivalries or Top Pot vs. Blue Star doughnut showdowns, and even if you find MLB and its leadership to be an old boys’ network of bad decision makers, even if the minor league Hillsboro Hops and amateur Portland Pickles are the only baseball teams (and Barley T. Hop and Dillon T. Pickle the only mascots) you’ll ever need, it’s OK to set that aside and let the hope course through you.

Even before the season started, you could argue the Seattle Mariners’ postseason chances were better than ever—they were better for every team, since among this year’s MLB changes is a new postseason format with 12 teams, up from 10, among  the 30 MLB teams total. Six teams each in the American and National Leagues will continue play: the three division winners in each league, and then the three teams with the best records among the non-division winners, called the wild cards. 

With seven games left, the Mariners are holding a wild card spot. If they lose all of their last seven games and the Baltimore Orioles win all six of their remaining games before the regular MLB season ends on October 5, the Orioles will overtake the M’s. But if the Mariners win even one game (such as their home game tonight at T-Mobile Park against the Oakland A’s, who have the worst record in the American League, at 6:40 p.m. on Root Sports Northwest), or if the Orioles lose even one game (such as their away game at Yankee Stadium today at 4:05 Pacific time, against the top team in the AL East), the Mariners clinch.

If they end up in the sixth spot, they'll face Cleveland first in the playoffs—the same team they beat in the AL Division Series in their last playoff appearance, in 2001, before falling to the Yankees in the AL Championship Series. If they end up ahead of the other two wild cards (currently Toronto and Tampa Bay), they get to host the series that starts the playoffs. (There's no way for them to have home field advantage if they make it farther than that, but the AL Division and Championship Series, not to mention the World Series, at least visit both teams' parks, while the initial wild card round is a short best-of-three series all at the higher seed's home stadium.)

Unless the Yankees and Orioles go deep into extra innings, their game today should end shortly after the Mariners-Athletic game starts. If the Orioles lose, expect a scene in the Mariners' ballpark akin to that moment in Ted Lasso when fans in the stands learn the results of another game that changes everything for the game they're watching. For the Mariners, an Orioles loss will be enough for an early-inning party to break out at T-Mobile, in the whole city of Seattle, and in all of Mariners country, Portland included. 

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