Mariners clinch berth for first time since 2001, snapping longest MLB playoff drought

For the first time since 2001, the Seattle Mariners are a playoff team. They punched their ticket to the 2022 MLB playoffs with a 2-1 win over the Oakland A’s on Friday night. Catcher Cal Raleigh hit the game-winning home run in the ninth, breaking a 1-1 tie. Take a look:

That snaps the longest playoff drought in North American men’s professional sports. The NBA’s Sacramento Kings take up the mantle, having not made the playoffs since 2006. As for MLB, the Phillies (2011) have taken the lead, though it may be temporary. They have a half-game lead for the final NL playoff spot. If they make the playoffs, the dubious distinction of longest playoff drought goes to the Angels (2014).

Much of the focus is on the drought and will continue to be, but let’s also give credit to the team that broke it.

Wunderkind center fielder Julio Rodríguez was an All-Star in his age-21 season and will win AL Rookie of the Year in addition to his MVP love. He is hitting .280 with a 144 OPS+, 27 homers, 25 stolen bases and 5.7 WAR in 129 games. These are already superstar numbers. He is currently injured but most likely back before the playoffs.

Joining him in an inconsistent offense capable of hitting home runs are Eugenio Suárez (31 homers), Cal Raleigh (26) and Carlos Santana (15 homers in just 73 games). Ty France has had a huge start to the season and we know what players like Jesse Winker and Mitch Haniger can do when they’re going well. The offense may look helpless down the stretch, but if they get everyone going in the playoffs, a run is possible with the pitching they have.

Speaking of, Luis Castillo and Robbie Ray give the Mariners two established, front-line starters for a playoff rotation in front of youngsters Logan Gilbert — who threw very well Friday in the clincher — and George Kirby. In the bullpen, Seattle has had a strong core of late relievers for most of the season, getting great work from Paul Sewald, Penn Murfee, Andrés Muñoz and Erik Swanson.

The drought will obviously make headlines as it has been relatively long. That 2001 Mariners team won a record tying 116 games. It had Edgar Martinez, Mike Cameron and John Olerud. Jamie Moyer was in the rotation and he was still under 40! Bret Boone had a monster season with 37 homers and 141 RBI. The Mariners also had the AL MVP, and that was Ichiro Suzuki. It’s probably the best way to put this in our consciousness in terms of how long ago it was, because Ichiro was rookie that year.

In the years since, there have been some awful seasons (101 losses in 2008 and 2010) and some teasing jobs (2018 being a standout). They won 90 games last year and still got left out in the cold.

What stands out the most this season, on a team level, would be the 14-game winning streak heading into the All-Star break. It included series sweeps over the Blue Jays and Padres, showing that this team is capable of making a deep playoff run if everything falls apart at the right time.

For now, just making the playoffs is a huge accomplishment and one worth celebrating. After all, they haven’t been able to celebrate it in over two decades.

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