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Mariners Table Setter: If these M’s are making the leap, this is a good start

Kyle Seager's two homers Sunday led Seattle to its third comeback win of the season. (Getty)

For 17 of the Mariners’ 28 innings in Minnesota, they trailed the Twins. That means that for the majority of the three-game series, Seattle didn’t look like the better team.

The final results, however, tell a different story.

Kyle Seager homers twice, Mariners rally to beat Twins and take series

After a dramatic 8-6 win Sunday where the Mariners stormed back from an initial 6-0 deficit and eventually took the lead on a three-run Kyle Seager homer in the ninth inning, the Mariners wrapped up a surprising series win. Even better, the M’s take a 5-4 record into a four-game set on the road, this one against a 4-5 Baltimore Orioles team that is reeling following a sweep at the hands of the Boston Red Sox.

Why am I putting so much stock into records just nine games into the MLB season? Let’s get into it as we set the table with three things to know heading into the upcoming week of Mariners baseball.

1. Why this Mariners start isn’t nothing.

Something that went a little under the radar on opening day of the Mariners’ season was a comment that general manager Jerry Dipoto made that morning to 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant during the weekly Jerry Dipoto Show.

Related: Jerry Dipoto Show – M’s fit mold of MLB’s recent surprise teams

“You can look back at so many of the teams that have come out of rebuilds over these last handful of years, teams like the Braves and like the Astros and like the Cubs, and generally speaking they were a year ahead of their projections,” Dipoto said. “… I don’t know if this is that year for us, but my hope is that it is. And frankly we have the talent to do it, we just have to stay healthy.”

OK, well, that last part hasn’t necessarily happened. The word on James Paxton’s unfortunate arm injury just 24 pitches into his season hasn’t been good, and strained hamstrings and quads have also had a say in the first week and a half of the campaign.

A big chapter in the story of this season is still a ways away from being written, however, and that’s what happens when outfielder Jarred Kelenic, starting pitcher Logan Gilbert and others in Seattle’s next wave of prospects receive their respective calls to the big leagues.

The thing all the teams that Dipoto mentioned had in common was the arrival of a big-time hitting prospect in the same season they ended up being “a year ahead” of their projections.

The Braves improved from 72-90 in 2017 to 90-72 in 2018, the year when Ronald Acuña Jr. burst onto the scene in 111 MLB games. The Astros? With 99 games of Carlos Correa in 2015, they went from 70-92 the season before to 86-76 (710 ESPN Seattle’s Paul Gallant, a former Houston sports radio host, has more on how the M’s compare to the 2015 Astros here). The Cubs called up Kris Bryant pretty quickly in 2015, and his All-Star campaign helped them improve from 73-89 in 2014 to 97-65. Oh, and those three teams all made the playoffs, too.

Kelenic is the Mariners prospect who has the most in common with Acuña, Correa and Bryant, especially because it seems pretty likely he’ll get the call to join the Mariners in time to get 100 or so games under his belt this year. And while you can’t expect that the 21 year old is going to have a rookie season that belongs in the same conversation as the ones the other three had, if he does, what the Mariners do in the meantime is very important.

And that’s why Seattle beginning the year 5-4, including a series win over last year’s American League Central champs, isn’t nothing.

For the Mariners to end up being a year ahead of their projections when 2021 is over, they will need to hang around until Kelenic gets his chance. And for every day that they can hover around .500, it’s another day closer to them having a real shot at turning the corner from “rebuild” to “rebuilt.”

Is this going to be that year? Time will tell. For a short nine games so far, though, the Mariners have shown they’re at least going to put up a fight.

See? That ain’t nothing.

2. Comeback kids owe some credit to the bullpen.

The Mariners haven’t necessarily looked great so far when starting pitchers have been in the game. It’s been a different story when the games turn to the bullpens, however, and that goes both ways.

Seattle has already pulled off three huge comebacks to win games, and they’ve also gotten the best of opponents in extra innings in two chances.

Sure, the M’s had to score a bunch of runs to pull off those wins, but to me the really important thing has been how their relievers have kept the score close enough for them to do so.

On Sunday, the Mariners chipped away from six runs down to win, with relievers Will Vest (two innings), Drew Steckenrider (one inning) and Rafael Montero (one inning) combining to allow no runs on no hits and two walks from the sixth inning on.

Saturday’s 4-3 win in extra innings saw Casey Sadler, Montero, Kendall Graveman and Keynan Middleton all throw an inning, with only Montero allowing a run – and don’t forget, Middleton had to deal with the automatic runner on second base in the 10th due to baseball’s universally beloved extra innings rule.

Seattle’s lone win in their previous three-game series against the White Sox was another of the comeback variety, as they turned a 4-1 deficit on its head with a seven-run sixth inning. And once again, that 8-4 win happened in part because Vest, Graveman, Anthony Misiewicz and Montero combined on 4 1/3 innings of one-run ball.

Now, this isn’t to say the bullpen has been perfect so far this season. It hasn’t. But when the Mariners have won, the relievers have been one of the reasons why. That wasn’t the case the previous two seasons, and the Mariners are going to win games at a better rate this year as a result as long as that trend continues.

3. Some “new” news from the farm.

Dipoto was a guest Sunday on SiriusXM’s The GM’s Corner with Jim Bowden, and he relayed a few things of note about the aforementioned Kelenic and Gilbert, as well as 20-year-old outfielder Julio Rodríguez.

The big news to me was that Dipoto mentioned Rodríguez as potentially seeing time with the Mariners this season.

“We feel like the two of them together (Kelenic and Rodríguez) have a chance to move multiple levels (this season), and there’s a chance you could see both here in the big leagues if not in the immediate near term than certainly by year’s end or in 2022,” Dipoto said.

That doesn’t mean you should count on Rodríguez as a September call-up, but Dipoto seemed to be encouraged during the interview by a co-op league in Arizona that some of the Mariners’ prospects (including Kelenic and Rodríguez) are taking part in now in between MLB and minor league spring training. Any playing time against non-teammates is a good thing for Seattle’s prospects but especially Rodríguez, whose pro experience stateside is limited to just 84 minor league games, 32 spring training games and 15 Arizona Fall Leagues games.

Dipoto also shared that the Mariners are having the left-handed Kelenic focus on his approach against lefty pitchers.

“We were specifically detailing an approach against left-hand pitching,” Dipoto said about a lengthy talk he had with Kelenic about his development. “No fault of his own, he just hasn’t had the opportunity to see the lefties at the top of the league – at Double-A, Triple-A, major league-level lefties. … We don’t think it’s going to be an issue that gets in his way. We’re trying to accelerate that development with some of what we’re doing in April down in Arizona.”

As for Gilbert, Dipoto went into detail about how his year is getting off to a late start by design, a plan that includes him hopefully spending most of his season pitching in the big leagues.

“We built an inning model for him where we would slowly ramp him up roughly starting in late April, early May with the hope that we were going to be able to preserve as many innings as possible for him to throw at the end of the season,” Dipoto said. “… We believe it’s going to finish with pitching a large majority of those innings at the big league level.”

This week’s Mariners schedule

All games and shows air live on 710 ESPN Seattle.

• Monday: Mariners at Orioles, 4:05 p.m. (pregame show 3 p.m.)
• Tuesday: The Scott Servais Show, 1 p.m. on Jake & Stacy
• Tuesday: Mariners at Orioles, 4:05 p.m. (pregame show 3 p.m.)
• Wednesday: Mariners at Orioles, 4:05 p.m. (pregame show 3 p.m.)
• Thursday: The Jerry Dipoto Show, 8:30 a.m. on Danny & Gallant
• Thursday: Mariners at Orioles, 10:05 a.m. (pregame show 9 a.m.)
• Friday: Mariners vs. Astros, 7:10 p.m. (pregame show 6 p.m.)
• Saturday: Mariners vs. Astros, 6:10 p.m. (pregame show 5 p.m.)
• Sunday: Mariners vs. Astros, 1:10 p.m. (pregame show noon)

Follow Brent Stecker on Twitter.

More on the Mariners from 710Sports.com

Drayer: Making sense of M’s’ struggles to start 2021
O’Neil: Answered and unanswered questions about M’s so far
Watch: M’s rookie Trammell blasts first MLB HR
Gustafson: Mariners takeaways from season-opening homestand