Future 'very bright' for disappointed Mariners

October 4th, 2021

SEATTLE -- The Mariners took their postseason pursuit all the way to the very end, emerging as arguably the Majors’ biggest surprise team this season while rallying a community of fans that have been so starved for success in the midst of a seemingly endless playoff drought.

Though their streak of early exits will continue for at least another year, the 20th straight, this 2021 group showed that the drought in Seattle may not last much longer.

Needing to win and get help from the teams ahead of them in the American League standings, the Mariners (90-72) were officially eliminated before the end of Sunday’s regular-season finale after the Yankees and Red Sox both won with late rallies on the East Coast. Those games were decided by the top of the ninth inning of the matinee at T-Mobile Park, where the Mariners fell 7-3 to the Angels in front of a third straight sellout crowd that mostly hung around until the very end.

“What a season for the Mariners and our group, and really taking a huge step forward organizationally,” manager Scott Servais said. “Our future is very, very bright here. I say all that, and you're still very disappointed today to get that close and not cross the finish line and break through into the playoffs.”

Those that did stick around to the very end witnessed the Mariners’ most emotional moment of the year.

As Boston’s game went final, Servais pulled in front of a roaring crowd that began the ninth inning chanting the longtime third baseman’s name. He nodded to them, went back to his position, then moments later, saw Servais and quickly realized what was happening. Seager shared an embrace with each of the Mariners’ position players on the mound before receding into the dugout, where the rest of Seattle’s roster awaited to also get their hugs. Appropriately, a team staffer retrieved the third-base bag and delivered it to Seager.

“I'm not going to look back on this season with any sort of negativity,” said Seager, who will likely be headed towards free agency this offseason. “It was a special run we went on. It was a special group. We came up short, obviously, but it wasn't for a lack of caring. It wasn't for a lack of work. The guys in that clubhouse, the guys on this team ... we really fed off each other.”

On paper, the Mariners reaching 90 wins for the first time since 2003 showed that the trajectory is changing in Seattle. But it was the turnout in this final series -- from a fanbase that at times has been so frustrated with the on-field product -- that underscored there could be an even greater upswing with this young nucleus.

There’s a community here that -- if this weekend indicated -- is as hungry as its young core of players are to build upon this promising run into 2022. The Mariners hadn’t sold out a game since Opening Day in 2019, they hadn’t sold out a series since mid-August of 2018 and they hadn’t sold out a final homestand since 2002.

“Getting 40,000 people in T-Mobile Park and feeling the energy that they brought is tremendous, not only for our team and organization, but I think the whole community,” Servais said. “Baseball is back in Seattle. We didn't get across the finish line, but I think everybody sees where we're headed.”

The Mariners’ magic simply ran out on Sunday, almost from the onset.

Shohei Ohtani led off the game with a homer off Tyler Anderson that immediately put the starting pitcher in a hole on a day his command eluded him. He was out of the game after recording just five outs and leaving with a 4-0 Angels lead, and though his offense began to chip away, it ultimately couldn’t manufacture enough timely run production like it had throughout the year. They went 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position, and the deficit kept growing.

There was disappointment in not playing again on Monday -- the best the Mariners could’ve done was force a Game 163 -- but it was far outweighed by the palpable optimism for what lies ahead.

“It’s going to sting for a while,” rookie outfielder Jarred Kelenic said. “This loss, just not getting to the postseason this year. But I know that it's not going to be something I'll ever forget. And I hope that all those fans that came out, that's something that they don't forget, either, because that vibe out on that field, and that vibe in that clubhouse was something that is not even describable. And it's all because of them out there. They brought that energy.”

Beyond Seager’s leadership, the Mariners have roster uncertainty with his impending departure after writing his name in the lineup just about every day for the past 11 years. Anderson, who was otherwise nails since coming over at the Trade Deadline, is also a free agent. Can Chris Flexen sustain the success he had following a season where he might earn down-ballot Cy Young Award votes? Will the lights-out bullpen maintain its stability? What can Seattle expect from Kyle Lewis next season?

These are all legitimate questions that the Mariners must address this offseason. But they have a strong nucleus that showed quantifiable development and a farm system that ranks No. 2 in baseball. There’s evidence here that suggests, for all the excitement this weekend, there could be better days ahead.