Energetic Mariners show glimpse of ‘uncomfortable’ team they want to be
It’s a week into the 2020 Mariners season, and it’s kind of hard not to feel like it did a week into the 2019 Mariners season.
No, the M’s aren’t on their way to a 13-2 start – that’s already out the question as they sit at 4-4 – but once again they’ve exceeded expectations, at least for a few games.
After dropping three of four in a season-opening series against the defending American League champion Astros plus a series opener in Anaheim, Seattle has won three straight, the latest of which was a 5-3 victory over the A’s in their home opener Friday at T-Mobile Park.
The last two games specifically could be used as the blueprints for how the M’s can succeed this year. That’s because their bullpen will be shaky at best all season long, making starting pitching of utmost importance. And after all six starters hit bumps in each of their first outings of the season, the No. 1 and No. 2 men in the rotation set a strong example Thursday and Friday.
In the finale against the Angels, Marco Gonzales pitched into the seventh inning, holding Los Angeles to two runs (none earned) on three hits and a walk while striking out six over 6 1/3. Taijuan Walker, in his first start in Seattle with the Mariners since 2016, was even better on Friday against Oakland, throwing seven shutout, one-hit innings with two walks and eight strikeouts.
The other part of the blueprint is putting pressure on opposing teams on offense, which is something manager Scott Servais preached back in his first season with the club.
“The term I use is I want us to be uncomfortable to play against,” Servais told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock and Salk in May 2016. “There’s certain teams in the league – I’ll talk about the Houston Astros, they’re uncomfortable to play against. What things they do athletically and can challenge you on the bases and how they match up and stuff like that.”
Servais may finally have the makings of that kind of club.
Kyle Lewis, the major league hits leader through eight games, is certainly proving to be uncomfortable for opposing teams, crushing fastballs for home runs and waiting on breaking balls to smack for hits to the opposite field on his way to six straight multi-hit games.
J.P. Crawford is playing in an uncomfortable manner, as well. He has three straight multi-hit games under his belt, and he must have annoyed the A’s by poking a pair of opposite-field singles through the hole Friday. He’s also showed off his wheels, stealing second base twice Thursday in what was his second game since being moved to the leadoff spot.
And speaking of baserunning, that may be the area of the Mariners’ game where they are most making their opponents uncomfortable. They’re taking the extra base when it’s there, including multiple times Friday, the most notable being Kyle Seager going from second to home on error by Oakland’s perennial Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman, whose low throw couldn’t get picked by fellow multi-time Gold Glove winner Matt Olson, the Athletics’ first baseman.
So what exactly is going on with this Mariners team featuring several unproven rookies, pitchers in their late 20s coming back from Tommy John surgery, and a bullpen made up mostly of pitchers that casual baseball fans have never heard of?
By the sounds of Servais’ comments after Friday’s win, the team appears to be taking the odd situation that is playing in front of no fans and thriving off their own enthusiasm.
“The energy that our group is bringing to the ballpark every day, even under these circumstances, is really fun to see,” Servais said. “We’ve got guys that have a lot to prove. It’s a really fun group and it’s starting to come together every day. I thought it was really cool to see our starting pitchers behind the dugout tonight kinda cheering everybody on, waving the towels and all that other stuff. That’s the kind of atmosphere we have. It’s almost like a high school or college team with all the young players we have.”
If there’s anything to be learned from the Mariners’ start last season, it’s that while teams can go on streaks, reality has a tendency to settle in before too long. That will probably happen this season too (if it keeps going, which is far from a certainty). For now, at least, you just might get a glimpse of that “uncomfortable” team the M’s are aiming to be.