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

OK, be honest. How many of you were ready to call it quits on this Mariners team three weeks ago after that catastrophic five-game series at home against the Angels?

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

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

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

Now you must once again decide how much emotional investment you’re willing to afford a team that owns the most notorious playoff drought in sports. And while you’re well within reason to keep these Mariners at arm’s length for the time being, there’s ample evidence to suggest things might finally be different this time around.

For starters, this team is easy to root for. We learned this during last year’s captivating and inexplicable playoff push. Now, a team’s likeability is as quantifiable as “fun differential,” but surely we can agree there’s value in both. This two-decade-long playoff absence has been filled with apathy and seasons that ended before the calendar even turned to summer. The Mariners have lost 90 games seven times during this 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 without any real hope of being entertained by the product of the field. So, yeah, the joy of watching objectively fun players like Julio Rodríguez, JP Crawford, Ty France, Eugenio “Good Vibes Only” Suárez and countless others is relevant. Mitch Haniger’s column in the Player’s Tribune, Paul Sewald’s roar after every save and Jesse Winker’s willingness to fight the entire Angels dugout also factor into the overall likeability of this roster.

Suffice it to say, if the Mariners fall short this year, you can rest assured 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 has been the best in baseball with a league-leading 2.99 ERA since June 1. In that span, the Mariners’ arms rank third in opponent batting average on balls in play (.260), fourth in walk percentage (6.9% ), first in left on base percentage (82.9%) and 11th in xFIP (3.90). Robbie Ray looks like the reigning AL Cy Young winner, Logan Gilbert was deserving of a spot on the American League’s All-Star roster and Marco Gonzales has regained form as a dependable innings eater.

In the bullpen, Diego Castillo, Andrés Muñoz and Sewald have become a dominant trio after a collectively slow start to the season. You could argue that Penn Murphy and Eric Swanson are possible regression candidates, but they’d remain valuable bullpen arms even if their production does dip a bit. That hypothetical regression is also countered by Matt Brash’s arrival to the pen.

Seattle’s lineup is where positive regression is likely, if not expected. There’s no debating 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 strikeout percentage (23.2%) and 23rd in BABIP (.275) since June 1. That won’t cut it. But Ty France getting healthy and the looming returns of Jesse Winker (suspension), Kyle Lewis and Mitch Haniger should buoy those numbers.

Carlos Santana has also been a revelation since coming over via trade from Kansas City. Santana hit three home runs over the final two games against the Blue Jays on Saturday and Sunday, and he has posted a .282 average and a .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 lone reinforcement before the Aug. 2 trade deadline.

Finally, Seattle’s schedule is remarkably manageable down the stretch. The Mariners’ last 20 games are against teams currently under .500. Additionally, the last time they’ll face the AL West-leading Astros (56-29) is on July 31.

The hype train has left the station and picks up steam with every “Goldsmith Growl.” To reiterate, it’s totally understandable if you don’t want to get on board. But to quote the great Michael Scott, there’s no question about it. I am ready to get hurt again.”

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