SEATTLE — Near the end of every September, the phrase "magic number" becomes common in the lexicon of baseball fans around the country.
Teams both in the mix and on the periphery of the Major League Baseball (MLB) postseason picture carefully examine the standings and calculate just how many wins by their team or losses by competitors it will take to clinch a playoff berth.
The Seattle Mariners have the longest postseason drought in MLB and haven't had a magic number to worry (or get excited) about in most of the seasons since their last playoff appearance in 2001.
However, the 2022 Mariners are firmly in the mix for one of three American League (AL) wild-card spots with nine games remaining on the schedule.
So what is the Mariners' magic number, and how does that figure evolve as the final days of the season wind down?
What is a 'magic number?'
MLB's website breaks it down like this: "A team's magic number represents the combination of wins needed by that team and losses by its closest competitor to clinch a given goal. Every time a team wins, its magic number decreases by one. Similarly, every time that team's closest competitor for the division (or Wild Card) loses, the magic number also decreases by one."
So essentially, every time either the Mariners win or the team directly behind them in the wild-card standings – the Baltimore Orioles – loses, the magic number goes down by one.
For those who want to keep track at home, the formula for calculating the magic number looks like this:
Games remaining + 1 - (Losses by second place team - losses by first place team)
What is the Mariners' magic number?
Entering Friday night's games, the Mariners' magic number sits at one. The Mariners beat the Rangers on Thursday night 10-9, dropping the magic number by one.
The Mariners host the Oakland Athletics on Friday at 6:40 p.m. PT in the first of a three-game series. If the Mariners win Friday night, the magic number drops to zero, and they clinch a playoff berth.
The Orioles play the New York Yankees on Friday at 4:05 p.m. PT. If the Orioles lose, that would also guarantee the Mariners a playoff spot.
What are the Mariners' most likely playoff scenarios?
The new MLB playoff bracket sets the final wild-card team (No. 6 seed) against the division winner with the worst record of the AL's three divisions (No. 3 seed) in a three-game series. The other two wild-card teams (Nos. 4 and 5 seeds) play a three-game series at the home of the higher seed, and the two best teams in the AL get a bye through the first round.
If the season ended Friday morning, the Mariners would hold the second AL wild-card spot and face off against the Blue Jays in a three-game series in Toronto.
Based on the league's new format, all three of those games would be held at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
However, the Mariners still have a chance to move up in the wild-card standings over the final week-plus of the regular season.
As of Friday morning, Playoffstatus.com, an unofficial website tracking the postseason race, gives the Mariners a 12% chance of clinching the sixth and final seed in the playoffs, a 38% chance for the No. 5 seed, and a 49% chance of climbing up above the rival Toronto Blue Jays and clinching the No. 4 seed.
Who does each team competing with the Mariners play over the final week of the season?
Toronto Blue Jays (current No. 4 seed): Three games vs. Boston Red Sox, three games at Baltimore Orioles.
Tampa Bay Rays (current No. 6 seed): Three games at Houston Astros, three games at Boston Red Sox.
Seattle Mariners (current No. 5 seed): Three games vs. Oakland Athletics, four games vs. Detroit Tigers.
Baltimore Orioles (current No. 7 seed): Two games at New York Yankees, three games vs. Toronto Blue Jays.