By Jim Moore
Can we call them the red-hot Mariners?
Normally, red-hot suggests 10 wins in a row or something along those lines, but when we’re referring to the Mariners, doesn’t 5-0-1 in the last six series qualify as red-hot? Especially when they came home from Houston at 8-15 last month after losing their second series of the season to the Astros.
I was starting to think they were the same old Mariners, but they’ve been a surprising bunch since, going 12-6, beating good teams and bad teams.
After their series win over the Yankees, the M’s are now 12-6 since losing two of three to the Astros last month. (AP)
I thought this stretch of 14 of 17 on the road would kill them, but it hasn’t. They’re 5-3 thus far with four in Cleveland and two in Anaheim remaining before the schedule turns a little more friendly.
I also thought they wouldn’t sniff .500 the rest of the year after losing 4-3 on Tuesday with Felix Hernandez starting the first game of the New York series. But here they are at 20-21 with a chance to hit .500 Friday night.
What they’ve done is pretty amazing. Even when fully healthy, they’re an average team. Injuries sidelined Michael Saunders for two weeks, and Franklin Gutierrez and Stephen Pryor are still missing. Based on the fact that Gutie DH’d for the Rainiers Thursday night, he could return from his hamstring issues next week.
I figured they’d struggle without Saunders in the outfield and in the lineup, and they did, but the Mariners also hung in there with gritty veteran Endy Chavez taking over in center field.
ESPN.com’s Keith Law told us that “Jason Bay stinks,” yet the 34-year-old hasn’t stunk. I know, he hasn’t been terrific, but he hasn’t been terrible either. He seems like a clubhouse glue guy, too.
And Raul Ibanez, I thought he might be finished, but what happens? He hits three home runs in two nights in the Yankees series. It’s important that he remains moderately productive because of his strong presence in the clubhouse with younger players. I’m into that intangible stuff as much as seamheads like their numbers, and Ibanez has plus-plus stuff in that department.
Three-fifths of the rotation is loaded with question marks, and the Mariners have withstood those problems, too.
Things have turned in such a positive direction that the Mariners compared Thursday night’s 3-2 win to a playoff game. Playoffs with this team this year? It’s probably a pipedream, but as you know if you listen to the show, I’m into pipedreams, and sometimes pipedreams come true.
(Speaking of pipedreams, I’ve been roundly and justifiably criticized for predicting that the Mariners will hit 200 home runs this year. After Michael Morse clubbed his 10th of the season Thursday night, the Mariners are on a pace for 178 and still have a shot at the 200 milestone when you consider that Justin Smoak had 19 homers last year and has only one this year and is bound to heat up, isn’t he? Ah, never mind, you might be right about Smoak.)
A fourth of the way through the season, the Mariners are four games back in the wild-card race. If they could win 85 games, they might have a shot. Does this team look like it could win 85 games? Right now it does. But when it came home from Houston last month? Not so much.
One more time, let me bring up what happened last year. Who among us thought the Orioles and A’s would be in the playoffs? Why can’t the Mariners be one of those teams this year?
I know, you’ve got plenty of plausible reasons why that won’t happen. I’d counter that by saying: “You never know.” Who would’ve thought the Angels would be 15-26 at this point with their lineup? I’ll tell you what, I’m glad the Mariners have Morse instead of Josh Hamilton right now.
As I’ve mentioned before, imagine what it would be like if they can squeeze into the playoffs. Would you like their chances if Felix Hernandez pitched in a one-game wild-card playoff? Me too. Would you like their chances in a seven-game series with Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma pitching in four of the games? Me too.
Anything’s possible. As evidence, Brendan Ryan went 2 for 4 Thursday, raising his average to .149.
The Mariners have a new ad campaign called “True to the Blue.” As a longtime cynic, I’m not true to the blue as much as I’m true to the crimson, even if it doesn’t rhyme.
But there’s hope here, and hope is a heck of a lot better than we’ve had in the past.