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Mariners Table Setter: Seattle gets an early chance to make a statement

Kyle Seager and the Mariners opened the season with a series win over the Giants. (Getty)

On Monday night, the Mariners’ season really starts.

Mariners Takeaways: What stands out from series win over Giants

I’m not discounting or throwing anything away from Seattle’s season-opening series win over the San Francisco Giants. It’s just that, well, the M’s had Sunday off. You know who doesn’t have Sunday off? Baseball teams. What an odd feeling it was for baseball to return for three days, only to have no game from the local nine to end the weekend.

Early-season scheduling quirks aside, Monday also kicks off a highly interesting week for the 2-1 Mariners, who will wrap up their six-game homestand and begin a brand new road trip against the two teams predicted to battle for the American League Central title this season.

Let’s set the table.

1. The Mariners vs. the team they want to be.

If you’re going off of last season, the one team’s blueprint the Mariners are trying replicate in 2021 would be that of the Chicago White Sox. And if ever there was a way to make the kind of statement veteran M’s like Marco Gonzales, Kyle Seager and Kendall Graveman have talked about, winning the upcoming series between the two teams at T-Mobile Park would certainly do the trick.

The White Sox, like the Mariners, have a good mix of up-and-coming talent (Luis Robert, Yoán Moncada, opening week sensation Yermín Mercedes) and leaders in their prime (2020 AL MVP José Abreu, ace Lucas Giolito, shortstop Tim Anderson). They did last year what Seattle is hoping to do this year, making the leap to the playoffs a season after finishing with roughly a .450 winning percentage (Chicago was .447 in 2019). And even though the organization curiously made Tony LaRussa (76 years old) the third-oldest manager in MLB history when it hired the Hall of Famer this offseason, the team is one of the most fun to watch in the league when it’s clicking.

Well, other than Mercedes setting an MLB record by going 8 for 8 to begin the season, things were not clicking for Chicago in its opening series against the Los Angeles Angels. The White Sox dropped three of four, including Sunday night on a walkoff homer by Jared Walsh, and they limp into Seattle with Anderson day-to-day with a hamstring injury and still reeling from losing young slugger Eloy Jiménez to a torn pectoral muscle late in spring training (though the reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated).

Jiménez is very much alive despite the pair of tweets from the White Sox account that left baseball fans wondering, but he is still out for five to six months after an incident with an outfield wall in a Cactus League game. Of course, the Mariners had a similar situation happen with their own young slugger, Kyle Lewis, though Seattle was much luckier as Lewis could be back by the end of the week from the bone bruise he sustained in his surgically repaired right knee from his own unfortunate meeting with an outfield wall in Arizona (Mariners manager Scott Servais said Saturday that Lewis would resume baseball activities in three to four days).

But back to the matter at hand. The Mariners have to be feeling good coming off Saturday’s shutout of the Giants that locked up the series win, and the added day of rest was probably needed after an odd and grueling schedule in the Cactus League. If they can keep their momentum rolling and add to Chicago’s rough start, they might have a stew going.

2. Tuesday night is appointment viewing.

If you’re looking for one baseball game to pay particularly close attention to this week, I would make it Tuesday – and I’m not just saying that because of Gonzaga’s date with destiny in the men’s college basketball national championship game on Monday night. I say it because Tuesday’s pitching matchup is a dandy.

Giolito, Chicago’s opening day stater, will get the ball for the second time already this season. The Mariners, meanwhile, will hand the ball to James Paxton at T-Mobile Park for the first time since Sept. 29, 2018.

“The Big Maple” looked great in his limited Cactus League action, and his return to Seattle should be met with great fanfare, especially from The Maple Grove, his personal cheering section. That is reason enough to build your Tuesday night around the M’s game, but seeing him lock horns with Giolito should be a treat. Chicago’s 26-year-old right-hander is already an All-Star, was in the Cy Young Award conversation last season, and has some of the best stuff in the game today. If Paxton can build off of what he did in Arizona, it should be an entertaining night for fans of great pitching.

3. Keep your eye on catcher.

After the Mariners’ series with the Giants, I got the impression a battle that wasn’t really a battle in spring training might actually be going on early in the season behind the plate.

Tom Murphy got the opening night start on Thursday for the Mariners, his first regular season game since 2019 as he missed all of 2020 with a broken bone in his foot. Everybody in Seattle’s lineup had problems that night with Giants starter Kevin Gausman, who was clearly on his game, but Murphy especially looked to be struggling with his timing.

For the final two games of the set, Seattle turned to Luis Torrens at catcher, and while he didn’t exactly light the world on fire with his bat, he did have a nice double into the left field corner to get the M’s on the board Friday.

It should be no surprise that Murphy might need some extra time to get back up to speed, and don’t be shocked if the 24-year-old Torrens takes any extra playing time he is given and runs with it.

This week’s Mariners schedule

All games air live on 710 ESPN Seattle

• Monday: M’s (Justus Sheffield) vs. White Sox (Carlos Rodon), 7:10 p.m. (pregame show 6 p.m.)
• Tuesday: M’s (James Paxton) vs. White Sox (Lucas Giolito), 7:10 p.m. (pregame show 6 p.m.)
• Wednesday: M’s (Justin Dunn) vs. White Sox (Dallas Keuchel), 1:10 p.m. (pregame show noon)
• Thursday: M’s (Marco Gonzales) at Twins, 1:10 p.m. (pregame show noon)
• Friday: No game schedule
• Saturday: M’s at Twins, 11:10 a.m. (pregame show 10 a.m.)
• Sunday: M’s at Twins, 11:10 a.m. (pregame show 10 a.m.)

Follow Brent Stecker on Twitter.

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