Many thought 2015 would be the year the Seattle Mariners finally snapped a postseason drought they’d been mired in since 2001. Those many turned out to be wrong.

But now, it’s looking like they’re only going to be off by one year.

Those who haven’t been keeping an eye on the Northwest may be surprised to hear the American League is having a hard time finding an answer for the Mariners. They went into Thursday’s opener of a four-game series at the Houston Astros on a winning streak and tacked on another with a 6-3 win.

It was a close game until the ninth, when Robinson Cano broke it open with a three-run double. Behold:

The Mariners have now won four games in a row and 12 out of their last 15 overall, running their record to 17-11. That ties them with the Boston Red Sox for the second-best record in the American League and puts them just 1.5 games behind the Chicago White Sox for the top mark.

“I would say everything is falling in place,” Cano said after Thursday’s win, via Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times.

The Mariners squad that went into last season as a trendy World Series pick had 11 losses before the end of April and didn’t pick up its 17th win until (appropriately) May 17. Things never really got any better after that for the 2015 Mariners, so it’s understandable if anyone is afraid of getting burned by the 2016 Mariners.

But this is a different team. You can tell just from looking at the names on the roster, which got a dramatic face-lift from new general manager Jerry Dipoto over the winter. You can also tell by looking at what the 2016 Mariners are doing right, which in layman’s terms is “literally everything.”

This isn’t your father’s older brother’s Mariners offense. Scoring didn’t come naturally to them between 2008 and 2015, but now they’re running a .738 OPS (fourth in the AL) and averaging 4.6 runs per game (second in the AL).

And as the Mariners thrive with run production, they’re not skimping on run prevention. They have a 3.04 ERA that ranks second in the AL, and it’s a balanced collaboration between the club’s starting rotation (3.37 ERA) and bullpen (2.33 ERA).

It helps that Mariners pitchers have gotten a boost from their defense. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Mariners ranked 19th in defensive efficiency (simply converting batted balls into outs) last season. This year, they’re among the league’s 10 most efficient defenses.

With the Mariners taking it out on opponents from every which angle, their record might actually underrate them. Perhaps it’s actually their run differential that’s hitting the nail on the head. At plus-32, it’s the best in the American League.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that what holds true in the first month of a season will continue to hold true throughout. But even after the Mariners are run through the smell test, things don’t smell too fishy.

It’s appropriate that Cano is the latest Mariners hero, as that’s a role he’s been playing all year for the club’s offense. With a .918 OPS and nine home runs, he’s easily putting a lost 2015 season behind him. And though the practical explanations for this are complicated, the overarching explanations are simple.

“Physically, Robbie’s in a much better spot this year than he was last year,” Mariners skipper Scott Servais told Jorge L. Ortiz of USA TODAY, in reference to Cano’s 2015 health woes. “He’s moving better. Mentally, he’s in a great spot.”

Cano isn’t doing it alone. There are solid hitters up and down Seattle’s lineup. Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager can keep that up. Seth Smith and Chris Iannetta probably won’t, but Nori Aoki and Adam Lind could balance that out by living up to their track records.

Rather, a more pressing question is whether Seattle’s hitters are actually that good on the other side of the ball. What could allow that to last, however, is if Mariners pitchers continue to make it easy. According to Baseball Savant, they went into Thursday’s action among the league’s best at initiating quiet contact:

Mariners pitchers have been doing this mainly by getting ground balls, as they began Thursday ranked fourth in the AL with a 47.0 ground-ball percentage. Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker are already working on ground-ball rates over 50 percent, and the staff’s collective ground-ball rate will only climb higher if Hisashi Iwakuma and Wade Miley start collecting ground balls at their usual rates.

What could interrupt the flow of Seattle’s pitching staff is the injury to reliever Tony Zych. Divish reports that his bum right shoulder is going to keep him out of action for as long as six weeks. That could mean six weeks without the only guy in the Mariners bullpen with plus velocity.

But it could survive just fine. By keeping hard contact at a minimum despite pedestrian velocity, the 2016 Mariners bullpen is succeeding like last year’s Astros bullpen. The latter used an array of different looks to shut down games, and the former bears a resemblance.

“It’s a different look,” Servais said of his bullpen in April, via Adam Lewis of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “It’s just not everybody throws 95-98 miles per hour. Some guys will do it with the breaking ball. Some guys do it changing eye levels up and down the zone. Some righties get lefties out … I like the diversity of our bullpen.”

It all adds up to a pretty convincing formula for winning ballgames, and it’s hard to imagine a more perfect time and place for it to come together.

The Astros were the popular favorite to win the AL West, but they’re just 10-19 out of the gate and, as David Schoenfield of pointed out, are feeling the effects of some questionable front office decisions. Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels have plenty of issues of their own.

Snapping postseason droughts has been all the rage in baseball recently. It was the Baltimore Orioles‘ turn in 2012, then the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013, the Kansas City Royals in 2014 and the Toronto Blue Jays last season. Now, it looks like the Mariners’ turn.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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