Moore: Unlikely turnaround makes anything seem possible for Mariners
With the way this Mariners season has gone so far, I’d believe everything you might think will happen next.
If you told me they can’t possibly sustain their recent success with all of the injuries they’ve had, I’d agree with you. If you told me that maybe there’s something magical going on that has allowed them to win six of their last seven games in spite of that, I’d agree with you, too. And if you told me it’s so magical and improbable that it will lead to the first World Series in franchise history, I couldn’t tell you you’re crazy anymore.
I’ve given up trying to figure out the Mariners. When they were 2-8, I never thought they’d get back to .500 this season, and here they are at 17-17.
During those first 10 games they were reasonably healthy compared to their situation now, minus only Drew Smyly from their rotation and Steve Cishek and Shae Simmons from their bullpen. Six weeks later, they’ve suffered more injuries in a short stretch of time that I can ever remember in 40 years of watching this team. When you lose four-fifths of your rotation and two of your best position players (Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger) for significant periods of time, you’d expect a dropoff of some sort.
Actually, you’d expect a six- or seven-game losing streak and chalk it up to bad luck. But the Mariners have won 15 of their last 24 games and are only one game out of the second wild card. I know it’s May 11 and ridiculous to talk about the wild card already, but what the heck, that’s what I’m going to focus on all season, might as well get started now.
As good as the Mariners have looked and as much as they’ll be even better once James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Haniger return, the Astros have a superior team and will win the American League West. I don’t even care about that. I just want to see playoff baseball again in Seattle, even if it’s one postseason game, which is better than the zero we’ve seen in the last 16 years. And as I’ve mentioned before, I’ll even take a tie for the second wild card, which would force a playoff game to get into the playoff game, which would be a heck of a lot of fun if they could somehow survive two of those suckers to get into the AL Division Series.
In addition to the injuries, the Mariners have somehow overcome the loss of their starting center fielder (Leonys Martin) and catcher (Mike Zunino) to poor performance.
And in the case of Zunino, you don’t have a good replacement plan in place with two catchers who don’t hit .280 when you add their averages together. But wouldn’t it be cool if you’re sitting in a bar in say, the year 2045, and talking about the 2017 Mariners and saying: “Hey, remember when they won their first World Series with two guys named Chooch and Tuffy as the catchers?”
The baseball gods have even piled on to the Mariners by making the core of the lineup play with nagging injuries. Kyle Seager missed two games in April with a hip issue, and Nelson Cruz (hamstring) and Robinson Cano (quad) are playing at less than full strength yet still producing at an All-Star level.
When we talked to general manager Jerry Dipoto on Thursday on “Danny, Dave and Moore,” he mentioned how the Mariners are doing it – with a terrific offense compensating for so-so starting pitching of late. They get on base, put the ball in play, don’t strike out as much as they used to and can run the bases. They also still have the power they had to rely on last year.
We saw evidence of it all in Philadelphia, where the Mariners scored 21 runs in two games and just kept pouring it on the Phillies, even with Danny Valencia looking like the force at first base that Dipoto thought he would be when he acquired him in the offseason.
For me, the best part of this season thus far are the unexpected contributions from the long-haired duo of Taylor Motter and Ben Gamel. I love the way Motter viciously swings his bat and will never forget when he told us at Edgar’s Cantina that when he heard he was traded to the Mariners, “it was the best day of my life.” I have never heard anyone say that before. He has embraced coming to Seattle and made the most of it.
Oh, and by the way, I’ve been mocked far and wide for suggesting that Motter should be the Mariners’ new catcher. I’m half-joking and half being serious simply because whatever his shortcomings behind the plate, he’d more than offset the weak stuff with his bat. He’s not going to hit under.160 like Tuffy Gosewisch and Carlos Ruiz.
For as crazy as that suggestion might sound, I’ve been told that bench coach Tim Bogar told ROOT Sports that Motter is, in fact, the Mariners’ emergency catcher should something happen to Tuffy and Chooch, which God forbid that happens and the Mariners would actually have to resort to using a catcher who can hit.
And Gamel, Good Lord has he been fun to watch, hitting .373 since being called up from Tacoma. He was 6 for 9 in Philadelphia and threw in another diving catch for good measure. That kid can flat-out play. He had some key hits last September as I recall. And this year he’s doing everything.
When Haniger returns, I’m not sure which one would play center field, but I’d like to see an outfield of Guillermo Heredia, Gamel and Haniger, and have Jarrod Dyson as the fourth guy. Give him occasional starts against right-handers but otherwise use him as a pinch-hitter or better yet, pinch-runner in the late innings when you need a run to tie or win the game. His batting average is nowhere near those of the others.
Gamel and Motter have spawned attempts to come up with hairy nicknames. Some of the best I’ve heard came across the Coors Light Text Line Wednesday: Fantastic Follicles and Legion of Groom. I like the one submitted by Bill Anderson in Edmonds: Hair Raid Offense because it’s a tip of the cap to Mike Leach in Pullman, too.
Next up for the Mariners is a four-game series in Toronto, and there are different ways to look at it. You could say the odds are going to catch up to the Mariners since they’re starting four pitchers who would be in Triple-A Tacoma right now were it not for the injuries.
But you could flip it around and say that the Blue Jays have the worst record in the AL, so why can’t the Mariners go into Toronto and do what they did in Philadelphia? Even if they split the four games, that’s a 4-2 road trip and you come home 19-19 in good position with three-quarters of the season left to play.
The Go 2 Guy also writes for KitsapSun.com and SeattlePI.com. You can reach Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo.