Mariners Table Setter: The kids are fun (and more opening series takeaways)
It’s July 28, and in a normal year we’d be preparing for whatever next deal Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto may have up his sleeve for the MLB trade deadline, an annual event on July 31 that marks baseball’s turning of the corner to the stretch run of the season.
That’s, uh… that’s not even remotely close to the current situation.
Instead of gearing up for deadline deals, we’re watching the Mariners simply get out of the starting blocks in the most bizarre, surreal, unprecedented (sorry, I know that word’s been overused a lot lately) season that hopefully Major League Baseball ever has to endure.
So here we are, heading into August, and I finally get to write the column that should have happened four months ago – the one that looks at the first series of the 2020 Mariners season.
Let’s set some tables.
The kids are fun.
The Mariners may be 1-3 after opening the campaign against the defending American League champion Astros in Houston – and it turns out, trash cans or not, that lineup can hit – but you have to admit, the team was pretty fun to watch at times. And that’s because of the kids.
Who are the kids? Well, let’s go down the list.
You of course have to start with Kyle Lewis, who did something worth getting excited about in every game in Houston. In his first at-bat of the season – with his first swing in a game that counts since last September – he crushed a massive home run over the train tracks in Minute Maid Park off a fastball from two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander. Oh, and that second Cy Young? Yeah, that was last year.
The next day, Lewis showed off the opposite-field power everybody’s been talking about, taking Lance McCullers Jr. out for his second home run in as many days.
He once again had a big hit to right field Sunday, this time delivering a two-run single on a beautiful piece of two-strike hitting that broke a 5-5 tie in the eighth inning and lifted Seattle to a 7-6 victory.
And on Monday, Lewis went 2 for 4 with a walk and two singles to – where else? – right field, including a screaming drive off the wall.
There is plenty of reason to be excited about Lewis right now. The Mariners’ 2016 first-round pick already had six home runs in his September call-up last year and is just the second player in MLB history to homer in each of his first three games as a big leaguer. He was locked in during spring training and maybe even more so in Summer Camp, and he followed all that up with a gigantic series where he leaves Texas with a .400/.500/.800 OPS and tied for second in the majors in homers.
Rookie of the Year? Yeah, that’s a distinct possibility. What I want to know is how many players have shown the skillset as a rookie that Lewis is showing. There’s a few in Mariners history – the go by the nicknames of Junior, A-Rod and Mr. Mariner. That’s pretty good company.
Lewis wasn’t the only young Mariners player to shine in Houston. Rookie first baseman Evan White had a hit in three of the four games, including a hard-hit RBI single in Sunday’s win and an even-harder-hit home run on Monday. That’s certainly something worth noting because he had to face four very tough right-handed starters right out of the gate in his MLB career, and so far he’s swimming.
J.P. Crawford should also get some attention for his two-triple, three-hit effort Saturday, as should Shed Long Jr. and Tim Lopes, who put pressure on the Astros with their speed on the base paths in the big eighth inning in Sunday’s win – both swiped bags and Long scored the deciding run on a great slide at home. And while Lopes isn’t one of the Mariners’ heralded prospects, the dude has shown he can hit, and he’s already 4 for 9 (including 3 for 4 Sunday) after seeing action in each of the least three games.
The question I have is whether the kids on the mound will join in on the fun. Justus Sheffield gets his first start of the year Tuesday in Anaheim, and the 24-year-old lefty had a good spring training and is coming off a filthy showing in his last intrasquad start, and Justin Dunn will follow Wednesday as the final arm in Seattle’s six-man rotation.
Speaking of Mariners pitchers, be patient.
Seattle’s starters all seemed to follow a similar pattern when it was their turn to pitch in Houston. They looked strong at first, then hit a bump in the road and were pulled early.
That might continue for a while.
The simple reason is that pitchers aren’t stretched out after just a few weeks of Summer Camp, so unless they pitch absolutely lights out, the chances of them getting through the fifth inning will be slim for a few weeks because they’re not yet in the range of being cleared to throw 100 pitches in an outing.
As is going to be the case throughout the 60-game season with this Mariners team, it’s best to enjoy the good moments when they present themselves (sorry, I know we’re piling up the silver linings here, but that tends to happen when you’re watching a rebuilding team). Every starter did something they at least can build on, even if they also all had one bad inning.
Marco Gonzales opened with two clean innings before Houston started chipping away. Taijuan Walker gave up just one run in the first three innings of his four-inning start, his first significant game action since recovering from Tommy John surgery. Yusei Kikuchi hit 98 mph with his fastball and was under 40 pitches through three innings of one-run, two-hit ball before the wheels came off in the fourth. And Kendall Graveman, another pitcher making his return from Tommy John surgery, was also in the upper 90s with his fastball and racked up seven strikeouts – including All-Stars George Springer, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman back-to-back-to-back to open the game – in four innings, though the third and fourth weren’t smooth.
Kyle Seager: Warm-weather fan
One of the more tongue-in-cheek questions I saw entering the late-July beginning to the season was whether Kyle Seager would have a slow start – as has usually been the case in his career – or if the time of year has more to do with it.
Well, we either have our answer, or we just have more proof of how much Seager likes hitting in Texas.
The North Carolina native has himself a modest four-game hitting streak (technically six if you want to go back to the end of the 2019 season) after hitting his 199th career home run last Friday, a pair of doubles Saturday, and checking in with a hit apiece Sunday and Monday.
This is the first time that Seager, who as a 10-year veteran is the longest-tenured player on the Mariners roster, has ever opened a season with a hit in four straight games.
What’s up next for the Mariners
• Tuesday: M’s at Angels, 6:40 p.m. (pregame at 5:30 on 710 ESPN Seattle)
• Wednesday: M’s at Angels, 7:10 p.m. (pregame at 6)
• Thursday: M’s at Angels, 6:40 p.m. (pregame at 5:30 )
• Friday: M’s home opener vs. A’s, 6:40 p.m. (pregame at 5:30)
• Saturday: M’s vs. A’s, 6:10 p.m. (pregame at 5)
• Sunday: M’s vs. A’s, 1:10 p.m. (pregame at noon)
• Monday: M’s vs. A’s, 6:10 p.m. (pregame at 5)