CLEVELAND – After their disastrous series start in Detroit, a game in which the Mariners lost two players and then the game by the horrific score of 19-9, have we seen the team bounce back and find its footing in what has been a very shaky opening month?
Time will tell, but what we did see in Detroit in Games 2 and 3 were two very different lineups win two very different games.
Heading into the season, it looked like the Mariners would be able to lean on a consistent, every-day lineup. The platoons of 2016 were gone. The small bench could be used to spot regulars with days off, but it was expected that we would see those regulars much more often than not.
Injuries and eventually underperformance changed things dramatically.
Following the darkest loss I can remember in some time, Mariners manager Scott Servais ran out a lineup that included two rookies and a player who had played in just 51 big-league games. The next day, Guillermo Heredia and Ben Gamel were back in the outfield and Taylor Motter was making just his third start at first base in professional ball. So much for consistency, but what we saw were two of the better wins of the season. The first was the 8-0 laugher behind the brilliant pitching of James Paxton. The other was the nine-inning grind that started against a good Justin Verlander who was on his game and ended in a 2-1 win.
The feel leaving Detroit was decidedly different than after the 19-9 loss in the series opener. Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, the talk was about the next guy up.
Losing Mitch Haniger and Felix Hernandez was a shock and it certainly left a big dent in the roster, but the Mariners had seen Haniger come out of seemingly nowhere and carry the team early. They saw Motter step in for Jean Segura and put up a top-five OPS in baseball in that time. Can Heredia, Gamel and Daniel Vogelbach fill every-day roles now and be more than just depth, but impact depth?
Two games can hardly tell the tale, but it looked good for those two games, and there seemed to be a different energy. There certainly were better at-bats. After the frustration of failing to hit with runners in scoring position the first three weeks of the season, the Mariners have done a much better job of it lately and somehow find themselves having scored the most runs in the American League.
With the starting pitching already two-deep into the depth with Ariel Miranda and Chase De Jong in the rotation, they are going to need that offense. The pitching, in a word right now, is scary, but you don’t need those guys to go out there and turn in performances like Paxton did Wednesday in Detroit. They need their bullpen to settle down as well, and we have seen that with Nick Vincent and perhaps Edwin Diaz as well, along with steady-to-good performances all season from James Pazos and Marc Rzepczynski. They need a couple of others to follow.
The Mariners are not where they expected to be as April comes to a close, but they perhaps played their most encouraging baseball the final two games in Detroit. We still don’t know when Haniger and Felix will return, but in their absence, this group may just have a shot to keep things interesting.