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At the break, Mariners in position to end playoff drought

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

By TIM BOOTH

AP Sports Writer

SEATTLE (AP) At some point it's going to end. The feeling of imminent failure among some Seattle fans is going to manifest on the field and this unexpected season is going to start crumbling until it's just like each of the previous seasons since the Mariners last made the playoffs in 2001. It has to, right?

That feeling is what nearly two decades without postseason baseball has created in the Pacific Northwest. While there is genuine excitement for what Seattle accomplished in the first 3+ months of the season there's also a sense of dread among the most fatalistic fans who have seen promising seasons go south before, and it won't go away until the Mariners officially end the longest current postseason drought in any of the four major pro sports.

Lucky for the doubters, this team is showing the type of resilience needed to do just that.

"I think the thing I'm most proud of, I guess, with this group is the ability for them to be as tight as they are," Seattle manager Scott Servais said. "I think there's a special bond within our team and it plays out on the field."

The Mariners are sitting at 58-39 and hold a three-game lead for the second wild-card spot heading into the second half of the season. What makes that remarkable is the Mariners have overcome enough obstacles thus far to derail most teams.

Five different starting position players have spent time on the disabled list and catcher Mike Zunino is currently on his second stint on the DL. Their bullpen has seen another four key arms go down at various times all the way back to spring training,

And that doesn't take into consideration the 80-game suspension of second baseman Robinson Cano. Rather than disrupt what Seattle had going, Cano's suspension seemed to galvanize the team. Seattle is 36-22 since Cano's suspension started.

"I think just team chemistry carries a team further than a lot of people think and just when guys are all on the same page and fighting for one another ... that's the big picture and it keeps everyone focused on that instead of their own individual performances and stuff like that," outfielder Mitch Haniger said.

Seattle's success in the first half was based around beating the bad teams in the American League. The Mariners were 51-22 against the rest of the AL not named the Red Sox, Astros or Yankees.

They are third in the AL in batting average, and fifth in both slugging and OPS. Their staff ERA is fifth and they've been one of the better defensive teams in the AL.

Their flaw is what has made them so good so far. They've been heavily reliant on being terrific in close games. Blowouts are foreign to Seattle and that lack of consistent offense could be a problem in the second half.

Edwin Diaz is on pace to challenge the single-season saves record with 36 at the break, but can't be relied upon to be nearly perfect the rest of the way. Seattle's 54 save opportunities are four more than anyone else in baseball. Of the three teams ahead of Seattle in the AL by record, Boston has faced 41 save opportunities, New York 37 and Houston 36.

In other words, not every late-game situation is filled with pressure for those teams, while Seattle has somehow thrived playing narrowly decided baseball. The Mariners have yet to lose when leading after eight innings. Going back 80 years, the 1978 Giants hold the mark for the most one-run wins in a season with 42. Seattle already has 26.

But there remains the lingering worry of a Seattle collapse, which was amplified when the Mariners went 2-7 over their final nine games prior to the All-Star break. What was a seven- or eight-game lead in the wild card over Oakland is down to three and Seattle now trails Houston in the division by five games.

But that hasn't ended the belief this is the year the drought ends.

"I think we have a group of guys that genuinely likes playing for each other," Marco Gonzales said. "I think we have a lot of guys with a common goal in mind and that's to win ball games and so I think that a lot of guys put the team before themselves."

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Updated July 19, 2018

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