Dancing their way to the Mariners’ best season in 20 years

Mariners creating a fun culture to win America’s heart

J.P.+Crawford+is+a+leader+for+the+Mariners+and+helps+the+infielders+dance+after+each+win.

GRACIE ROGERS

J.P. Crawford is a leader for the Mariners and helps the infielders dance after each win.

BRANDON WILLMAN, Editor-in-chief

The 2021 Seattle Mariners almost broke the 20-year playoff baseball drought in the pacific northwest, missing the mark by only two games. Their success was unexpected but brought the hype in baseball back to Seattle.

The preseason predictions for the year did not predict the Mariners to come anywhere close to the postseason and the advanced stats during the season also did not point to a winning percentage as high as the Mariners had due to the Mariners giving up more runs than they scored cumulatively.

But, the Mariners had something that other teams could only dream about possessing. The 2021 Seattle Mariners had the best “fun differential.”

A fun differential is the stat that manager Scott Servais proclaimed the Mariners had. Essentially what it came down to was that in close games, the Mariners would pull out the win due to a mix of fan involvement and noise, clutch plays and an environment that the players were able to have fun and thrive.

Once again in the current season, the Mariners continue the new tradition of having the most fun. Something is slightly different about this year. It is expected for the Mariners to clinch a playoff spot.

Transitioning from year to year can cause certain aspects of a team such as a clubhouse energy and tradition to be lost due to roster turnover and free agency. But, it can also lead to new traditions being made at the beginning and during the course of the new season.

The Mariners have been able to maintain much of their desire to create a fun clubhouse atmosphere from the previous season as well as create new involvement with key off-season additions such as Robbie Ray, Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez.

One of the most notable traditions that have been adopted by the team this year is their postgame celebration. Celebrating a win is nothing new in baseball, the 2018 Red Sox outfielders would have a different celebration after they would win. The Mariners like to keep it more consistent but more involved, as they include every member in the infield in a dance after every win.

They started this tradition on July 4. With only a group of four doing the dance for a couple of seconds. It has quickly evolved past that and become a vital part of the postgame antics when the Mariners pull off the win.

We now see at least seven players in each postgame dance circle that conduct the dance for sometimes over a minute at a time. The only conclusion that can be made about this dance is that they truly get jiggy with it.

But, why does the Mariners’ dancing mean anything, and how does it make them a better team?

Ever since they were eliminated from postseason contention last season the Mariners struggled with determining what sort of identity they would have for the upcoming season. Would they rely on the incoming veterans? Would they rely on young rookies to carry the load? There were too many questions and not enough answers.

So the Mariners decided to just focus on what went well in their final month push to get into the postseason, having fun. After struggling heavily early in the season, a brawl broke out between the Mariners and one of their division rivals, the Los Angeles Angels.

One of the players that were suspended was the life of the fun differential from last season, J.P. Crawford. He made his return to the team on July 4. The same day the tradition of dancing after every win began.

The Mariners have had impressive seasons from rookie sensation Julio Rodríguez, off-season additions such as Robbie Ray and Suárez and finally many of the returning players who have maintained their performance from last season.

Overall, the success of the team boils down to finding their identity. That identity is a team that dives head first into the idea of having fun and that leads to winning games.

It is no secret that the Mariners have not made the postseason in a long time, for 21 years to be exact. With this drought, many people in the U.S. hope to see the Mariners succeed. Therefore they were deemed “America’s Team” for the last month of last season in their push for the playoffs.

That idea of being America’s team has continued with Rodríguez’s stellar rookie season and expectations being higher than ever. With them acknowledging this moniker and dancing with every win, the Mariners are having fun and proving that it truly works.

I asked Ryan Divish, Seattle Times Mariners beat writer what his thoughts were on the dance and if it could be attributed to the success of the Mariners.

“I don’t know if it’s helped. I think the starting pitching and the bullpen and Julio have been the key to their successes,” Divish said.

These are all true, the Mariners pitching unit has had an ERA+ of 107, according to Baseball Reference. ERA+ is a statistic that compares the pitching of a team or player to league average while taking into consideration the ballpark and other external factors. The League average for ERA+ is 100, so the Mariners have been 7% better than the league average so far.

While it is the observable reason that the Mariners have been successful, there was still some acknowledgement of how the dance has impacted the play of the team this year.

“I look at the dance and the swelmet which is now the bombnet and refer to the logic of Crash Davis:  ‘If you believe you’re playing well because you’re getting laid, or because you’re not getting laid, or because you wear women’s underwear, then you are,’” Divish said.

Like Divish said, having fun is working for no observable reason other than that the team is playing looser and enjoying the game of baseball for what it is. It may not work for every team, but it certainly works for the team from the pacific northwest.

And it is working, as of Sep 14. The Mariners have a 99.5% chance of making the playoffs, according to FanGraphs.