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THE CHEAP SEATS with STEVE CAMERON: Hobbling M's still on track for playoffs

| September 20, 2022 1:05 AM

The math looks OK.

The health report?

Not so much.

If the Mariners were running an actual marathon toward an American League wild-card spot — you know, a regular race — they’d be trying to finish with serious cramps in both legs.

Yeah, they have a decent lead, but …

It DOES feel like they’re having to reach the line on their hands and knees.

After two decades outside the playoffs, I guess this physical pain down the stretch was pretty much predictable.

Seattle entered play Monday afternoon in Anaheim on a three-game losing slide.

Toronto and Tampa Bay have been creeping away in the race for the top two of those three wild-card spots — but at this point, the whole thing is about ending the drought.

The Mariners would snap up the third invite (and the league’s No. 6 seed) with the fastest RSVP in history.

Yeah, they would have to play a first postseason series against likely Central Division winner Cleveland, all on the road — but so what?

THE ISSUE, as you know if you’re following the last few weeks of this race, is that the Mariners are wracked by injuries.

On Monday, they fielded a team without Eugenio Suarez (injured list with a fractured fingertip), Julio Rodriguez (back spasms) and catcher Cal Raleigh (bruised thumb).

Those three have 81 home runs among them.

Beyond that, outfielder Mitch Haniger has struggled after suffering with a back problem of his own, and played despite an 0-for-20 slump.

Ty France doubled to drive in a run in the first inning against the Angels, but then the Mariners began their old and frustrating habit of leaving runners in scoring position.

Logan Gilbert was absolutely dealing — he finished by allowing one run on four hits, with 11 strikeouts over six innings — but that scary 1-0 stayed stuck on the scoreboard SO long.

My goodness, this team needed some breathing room, both in the game and in the standings.

Baltimore is five games behind Seattle for that final wild-card spot, and the hot White Sox trail by 5 1/2.

The Mariners have a critical tiebreaker over the O’s — but not the Sox.

If Seattle can just play FAIR baseball in the final 16 games, we’ll get to enjoy the playoffs.

But with the M’s losing three straight to the Angels, the Orioles and White Sox have crept a little close to striking distance, and they’re forcing the M’s to start turning things around.

Or else, the unthinkable could become …

Sigh …

Thinkable.

As the innings slipped along on Monday down in Anaheim, you had to worry.

BUT THEN …

Deliverance.

At least for a day.

Midseason pickup Carlos Santana, a .181 hitter with the Mariners who somehow has made his few good swings massive, crushed a grand slam off the Angels’ Jose Suarez in the fifth inning, and suddenly it was 5-0.

You could almost feel one mighty exhale throughout the Northwest.

Two innings later, France launched a three-run shot — his 20th of the season — and the Mariners finally had the pleasure of a 9-1 laugher.

Now they head to Oakland (which is fielding something close to a Triple-A team) for three games, and then to Kansas City for another three.

After that, it’s a 10-game homestand to close the season, with the last four against the bottom-feeding Tigers.

Just 16 immense games remaining.

Before this scary three-game crash over the weekend in Anaheim, here was your popular talk-radio question: “If it’s the last day of the regular season and a win could get you the No. 4 seed (and three games at home), would you start Luis Castillo?

“Or is it more important to start him in the first game of a playoff series – even if it means going on the road?”

That intriguing puzzle was, uh, put on hold when Eugenio got hurt, and then Julio, and then Raleigh.

The new question became …

“Can they hang on, or is Seattle baseball simply cursed?”

For now, basking in the glow of that win to liven up the lads’ short flight north to Oakland, I’d say …

Let’s just concentrate on the math.

With the Mariners’ lights-out pitching, they really could crawl to the finish line.

Relax.

(He said, moments after seeing Santana’s drive clear the wall. Whew!)

Email: scameron@cdapress.com

Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press three times each week. He also writes Zags Tracker, a commentary on Gonzaga basketball which is published weekly during the season, beginning in October.

Steve suggests you take his opinions in the spirit of a Jimmy Buffett song: “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On.”

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