JIM MOORE

Despite some concerns, playoffs finally feel possible for Mariners

Apr 29, 2016, 11:44 AM
The Mariners are a half a game out of first place after taking two of three from Houston. (AP)...
The Mariners are a half a game out of first place after taking two of three from Houston. (AP)
(AP)

If you’ve done the math like I have, the Mariners are on pace to win 88 games. Last year, Texas won the American League West at 88-74.

It’s funny how we always used to say “it’s early” to talk about their slow starts, hoping for better things ahead, and now we still have to say “it’s early” after a good start. Why is that exactly? Is it because we don’t think they can keep it up? Is it because we still have doubts based on what Mariners teams have done in the past?

I’m more cynical than the next guy, but everything is different with the 2016 Mariners. They have new players, a new general manager with a new philosophy, a new manager and now they even have new owners.

So isn’t it fair to expect a different outcome, such as a wild-card berth in the playoffs? That’s all I’m hoping for, really. An AL West title is the goal, and from what we’ve seen in the first eighth of the season, the Mariners could be one of the contenders for the division championship. But I don’t even care about that, not this year anyway. I like the idea of getting into that one-game playoff and playing it at home with Felix Hernandez on the mound, turning all of Safeco Field into a 45,000-seat King’s Court.

Some Felix doubts are surfacing with 15 walks and declining velocity. It certainly bears watching. Maybe he’s nibbling because he’s not as confident with his stuff. But I’m not worried about Felix, figuring veteran savvy and all of the movement on his pitches will compensate for fastballs in the low 90s. Even if I’m wrong about that, Taijuan Walker could be ready to take over as the team’s ace by the end of the year. He already has Felix-like numbers in his first four starts with a 1.44 ERA, 25 strikeouts and only three walks.

I don’t know what’s the matter with me because I can usually find black clouds on sunny days, but for some reason, I look at the Mariners’ concerns and don’t think they’ll continue. Kyle Seager is not going to hit .143 all year. Nori Aoki is not going to hit .205 all year. And even Robinson Cano, as productive as he’s been, is not going to hit .247 all year.

Cano, as you know, has been fantastic, leading the league with eight homers and 24 RBIs. He’s been so good I can’t even pounce on him for forgetting the number of outs in Tuesday’s 11-1 win over the Astros. If he hits 40 home runs and finishes with 125 RBIs, I’ll start to think he’s underpaid. At this point, he’s in the conversation for MVP, and if that happens, you can bet that the Mariners will end their 14-year playoff drought.

This team has shown it can manufacture runs, and it still has last year’s power, too. The Mariners are second in the AL to Baltimore (31) with 29 homers.

The pitching has been terrific thus far. The Mariners are third in the AL in ERA (3.33) and WHIP (1.19). If Nathan Karns keeps pitching like he did Tuesday, when he allowed two hits against Houston, he’ll be the best fifth starter in baseball. I’m a little unsure about Hisashi Iwakuma and Wade Miley, but it’s nice to know that James Paxton is pitching well in Tacoma. The bullpen has been better than expected, and you can make a case for that to continue just as easily as thinking it won’t.

Heck, I even have to do that baseball thing of tipping my cap to disheveled Dae-Ho Lee, even though he beat out Jesus Montero for the backup first-base job. Lee is hitting .280 and won a game with a walk-off homer. He does not look overmatched by major-league pitching to this point.

New Chairman and CEO John Stanton said Wednesday that ownership’s No. 1 goal is to win a World Series. It probably won’t happen this year, but you can’t really dismiss the possibility, either. In the past, you could. But look around the league this year. The White Sox (16-7) and Orioles (13-8) have the best records, but no one expects either team to maintain that kind of pace.

It looks wide open, and the Mariners are talented enough to stay in the playoff picture all year long.

The Go 2 Guy also writes for SeattlePI.com, KitsapSun.com and jimmooregocougs.com. You can reach Jim at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo.

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