Over the course of a season, most games are nothing more than exactly that. A game. One game. A win or a loss. One of 162. Nothing more, nothing less.
Shortly after the midpoint of the season, if the pile of games in the loss column is greater than the pile of games in the win column, then the remaining games quite often are just that – one of 162. If the balance tilts in the direction of the wins, however, then things change. Then you find yourself in meaningful baseball territory in August and September.
In case you have forgotten how to navigate through this once familiar world, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon pointed the way to the path.
"As I was telling someone earlier, the season just started," he said before the Mariners' 7-3 win over Atlanta on Wednesday. "August 1 is when the season starts, particularly if you are in a race. I think you see better pitching, better defense. Games will be much more intense."
The Mariners' games will be more intense because this year is different. Things even look different. This August isn't about bringing up the kids to get experience. No, the experience was brought in to help this team get better, which is important because that's what good teams do in the second half.
As McClendon pointed out, the door on the first half of the season has been closed. The Mariners are in the conversation, within striking distance of a spot in the postseason, but they have to get better. What they did before the season that McClendon points out means little. For the Mariners, it means they started down three games. Three games out of the second wild-card spot on Aug. 1. Today they are one game out. So far so good in this new season.
The downside to having a new season is there is much less room for error. It is no longer one of 162 games. In this season, it is one of 54. These games mean more and the Mariners have a golden opportunity to take a giant step toward that wild-card spot with the White Sox – who are five games under .500 – coming to town for four games. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays – who hold a one-game advantage over Seattle – will play one game against the A.L. East leading-Orioles before hosting the A.L. Central-leading Tigers for three.
While the Mariners will miss Chicago ace Chris Sale, the Blue Jays will have Max Scherzer and David Price to deal with before coming to Seattle to face Felix Hernandez, Chris Young and Hisashi Iwakuma. There is an opportunity to do damage in the next week and McClendon believes his club is ready for this.
"I think our guys are enjoying it," he said. "I don't see anyone getting tight or anything like that. I told them to just enjoy the journey. We don't know what is going to happen, but enjoy it, see what happens."
This isn't business as usual for Kyle Seager. He embraces the opportunity to talk about being in the race.
"You definitely know. You know where you are at, which is exciting," he said. "It's something we haven't been able to do the last couple of years. It's obviously a lot of fun being in the hunt and being in the position to do some things."
Logan Morrison prefers to not get caught up in scoreboard watching.
"I know when I feel like we are going good we don't pay attention to it. We are focused on the task at hand," he said. "If we win games and do what we are capable of and win the games that are in front of us, we don't have to scoreboard watch. Just keep doing us and go from there."
"Doing us" – in Morrison's words – is getting good pitching and grinding out at-bats. Don't try to do too much, don't try to hit the five-run home run. You be what you are supposed to be and let your teammate be what he is supposed to be. It is as simple as that.
For all the angst that I hear daily about lineups, it really is in the players' hands at this point. With the additions the Mariners have made, they now have the most complete lineup they've had in years and it's a lineup McClendon has repeatedly said he is proud to put out.
If they do what they are supposed to do with the bats, with the pitching they have, it should be enough. Nobody is being asked to do anything extraordinary.
"They're doing OK," McClendon said. "Just showing up every day and playing."
The door is shut on the first four months of the season. The Mariners did what they needed to do to get to the season that starts on Aug. 1. In that new season they are 3-2 with 3.8 runs scored per game and one game out of a wild-card spot.