Moore: We thought these Mariners weren’t that good, but what if they are?
As you know, the Mariners are off to the best start in club history at 7-1. The 2001 team that went 116-46 didn’t start out 7-1, nor did any of the other 41 teams since the expansion franchise was born in 1977.
And they’re just a tick away from being 8-0 – they had a 6-3 lead in the ninth last Friday before Hunter Strickland strained a lat muscle and blew the save against the Red Sox.
How is this happening with a team that is supposed to be taking a step back this season? We were basically told by general manager Jerry Dipoto that the Mariners would not compete for a playoff spot this year, yet here they are 4 1/2 games ahead of the Astros, who are supposed to run away with the AL West. That could still happen, and probably will, but in the meantime, take a long look at the here and now.
I listened to The Wheelhouse podcast with Dipoto and Aaron Goldsmith on Wednesday, and when Dipoto was asked something about the “step back,” he said he was misunderstood, or something along those lines anyway. He said the team wanted to step back and take a look at the bigger picture, using the “forest for the trees” analogy.
To be honest, however he wants to word it, I’m pretty sure he was talking about competing for division titles and World Series championships starting next year and more likely in 2021. He more or less asked for patience in 2019. As much as we’re surprised as fans watching what’s happening, I’m guessing Dipoto is anywhere between startled and flabbergasted.
Dipoto was also asked on The Wheelhouse if his approach would change if the Mariners are in the playoff hunt this year. In the past he’s indicated that veteran players would be dealt by the trade deadline to further bolster a farm system that was already improved through trades in the offseason. Dipoto told Goldsmith that the Major League team will always be looking to get better, citing the recent additions of backup catcher Tom Murphy and reliever Connor Sadzeck. But those improvements won’t come at the cost of losing promising prospects who are expected to be core contributors next decade.
So he’s planning to stay the course, but you still have to wonder, don’t you? What if this crazy start leads to an even crazier development in July? What if the Mariners are 44-37 at the midway point of the season and two games behind the Astros? It’s not that far-fetched to consider that as a possibility anymore – it would require the Mariners to go 37-36 in the next 73 games.
Granted, I know they’re playing out of their minds and over their heads and however else you want to say it. They can’t keep hitting home runs the way they have. At some point there will be a power outage, and those things they’ve been able to overcome thus far – defensive shortcomings and spotty relief pitching – will make us wonder how they ever got off to a 7-1 start.
That’s a rational way of looking at it. The Mariners used to have the slogan “These Guys Are Good.” I’d contend that this year’s slogan could be, “These Guys Aren’t That Good,” but what if they are?
What if Jay Bruce stays healthy and hits at a 30-homer pace? What if Félix Hernández pitches the way he did in his first start for the next two months? What if Tim Beckham continues to damage balls with his bat? What if the bullpen is better than we think it will be? With Edwin Encarnación, you don’t even have to play the what-if game; his long career tells us he’s going to produce and will likely hit his 400th home run with the Mariners since he’s hit 381 already.
Warm sun, cold brews, long homers.
Really is a fantastic day to be out in The 'Pen. 😎 pic.twitter.com/qoZA73cLCc
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) March 29, 2019
But you’re right, there are probably too many what-ifs to think the Mariners will be playoff contenders this year. Then again, if we look at the short-term – and hey Jerry, if you don’t mind, I’m going to look at the trees instead of the forest – the Mariners begin a seven-game road trip with three against the White Sox in Chicago this weekend. Then they play four in Kansas City. The White Sox and Royals aren’t expected to have winning records this year. So let’s say the Mariners go 4-3 on the road trip, they would return home with an 11-4 record. They then host the Astros in a three-game series with a chance to show us if they’re for unreal – forget about “real.”
I don’t know about you, but why not roll with what we’ve seen so far? Their lineup is better than last year’s lineup that featured All-Stars Nelson Cruz, Robinson Canó and Jean Segura. When one or two or three of these guys go into slumps, there are other guys who can compensate. I’ve enjoyed seeing the Mariners with a catcher who can hit in Omar Narváez. Sure, he’s not as good as Mike Zunino behind the plate, but guess how Zunino’s doing for the Rays so far this year? He’s 1 for 18. I don’t miss looking at Zunino’s stats wondering if he would ever justify being a No. 3 pick overall.
Know what’d be fun? Watching the 2019 team play the 2018 team in a three-game series. Who do you think would win? Give me the 2019 team winning two of the three games, and I could even be talked into a sweep if it faced the 2018 team from the second half of the season. This year’s team isn’t as talented individually but might be better collectively, if that makes sense.
I even think that Strickland’s lat injury that will keep him out for two months might be a blessing in disguise. The Mariners have been effective with their closer-by-committee ever since with four different relievers earning four saves in four straight nights. I had never heard of Anthony Swarzak before he went to the mound and closed out the Angels Tuesday night.
There’s something about the combination of no expectations whatsoever and players with something to prove that has proved to be an unbeatable formula for the Mariners. Again, not many of us think they can keep it up, but if they do, it’ll rank as one of the most unlikely stories in Seattle sports history.
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