Mariners Table Setter: The fun part of Seattle’s rebuild arrives

Apr 19, 2021, 1:21 AM | Updated: 1:33 pm
Mariners Ty France...
Ty France had big hits in both of the Mariners' wins in their three-game series with Houston. (Getty)

Yes, Mariners fans – that last week really did happen.

Why be optimistic about Mariners? Because this isn’t their best yet

In a season where nobody really expects the Mariners to become a playoff team, they have reeled off three straight series wins to improve to 10-6 and assume first place in the American League West.

Sure, there are a couple of caveats. Seattle took three of four from the Orioles, who are, well, the Orioles. Then it was two out of three from the Astros, who were a shell of themselves without José Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman and others. The name on the jerseys said ‘Astros,’ but it didn’t really feel like the Astros.

The Mariners still beat who they were supposed to beat, however, and you shouldn’t hold that against them. They’ve played five series to this point, winning all but one, and that one was against a very talented Chicago White Sox team that will probably be in the postseason for a second straight year. The fact remains that the M’s have done so far what all good teams have to do, and that is beat who they are supposed to beat.

Next up for the Mariners is a very intriguing two-game set at home against the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Let’s set the table for the upcoming week of Mariners baseball.

1. Welcome to the fun part of the rebuild.

The No. 1 reason why people don’t like it when the team they root for starts a rebuild is because they don’t think it’s fun to watch. That can be true, but only to a certain point. If things for the most part go right, eventually it gets to a point where the fun starts.

So I have a question to ask Mariners fans: Are you having fun yet?

You probably are. The Mariners have turned heads with their 10-6 start, have won the majority of their games with exciting comebacks, and they’re doing it all with players who have made their names in Seattle or are in the process of doing so.

That last point is what I want to focus on.

Look up and down the Mariners’ lineup, or their rotation, or their bullpen, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find names of players who established themselves in a city other than Seattle.

The veterans – Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, Marco Gonzales, Tom Murphy – all grew into contributors with the Mariners. There are players who came up through the Mariners’ system, from former first-round pick Kyle Lewis to 18th-rounder Anthony Misiewicz. And then there are the guys who are on paths similar to ones Haniger and Gonzales once followed – young players who were recently acquired by the Mariners and are getting their first opportunities at regular MLB playing time. That list includes surprising starting pitcher Chris Flexen and a trio from last year’s Padres trade – Ty France, Luis Torrens and Taylor Trammell.

It’s not just that the Mariners’ roster is mainly made up of these kinds of players. It’s that each player feels so homegrown to the Mariners. For fans, it should feel like they’re getting in on the ground level of something new, fresh and exciting, and that’s something that creates a different level of connection than it would with a team made up of veteran mercenaries.

At some point, the Mariners could use a few mercenaries here and there to get them over the hump (not to mention one of the young, big-name shortstops who will hit free agency after this season that could easily become a cornerstone of their long-term core). But it’s seeing the core that’s starting to form now that fans will look back on fondly years down the line should the Mariners’ rebuild accomplish what it was supposed to.

2. Can the Mariners’ lineup get a little longer?

For as great as the last week was for the Mariners, the offense is really only getting consistent production from two, maybe three players.

Haniger is red hot right now. After delivering a double, triple and three RBIs in Sunday’s series-clinching 7-2 win over Houston, he owns .338/.357/.631 slash line and .988 OPS, and his 22 hits are tied for the American League lead.

It cannot be overstated how important it is for the Mariners to have a fully healthy Haniger back in the leadoff spot and in right field, and their fast start simply doesn’t happen without him.

France isn’t far off Haniger’s pace, and it’s quite the 1-2 punch to have those players atop Seattle’s order. France hit his third homer of the year plus a double to drive in three runs Sunday, raising his slash line to .305/.400/.525 for a .925 OPS, and he also had the huge walkoff hit to lift the M’s to a Game 1 win Friday vs. Houston.

Oh, Haniger had a big run-scoring double in that comeback Friday, as well.

Finally, there’s Kyle Seager, who has six extra-base hits and has driven in 12 runs while hitting behind Haniger and France, though he’s cooled off considerably and is just 2 for 21 over the Mariners’ last six games.

Those three have pretty much been the Mariners’ offense so far this season, and that’s not sustainable. Clearly, Seattle needs to find a way to lengthen its lineup.

Oh, right – Kyle Lewis.

Related: Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto says Kyle Lewis’ return is near

The 2020 AL Rookie of the Year is expected back either Monday or Tuesday from his injured list stint for a deep knee bruise, and the Mariners could sure use him in the No. 3 spot, allowing Seager to move to cleanup and giving Seattle a potent bat it very much is missing right now.

Lewis will certainly help, and it will be a lot of fun to see him and Haniger finally in the same lineup for the first time (Lewis’ September 2019 MLB debut was a few months after Haniger suffered an injury that led to him missing a year and a half of action), but the M’s will need more hitters to get going soon. Evan White had a few big hits in the Astros series, so hopefully he can continue to make strides. It would be big for Murphy and Dylan Moore to shake off their early-season struggles, as well.

Until more players get going, however, the Mariners’ lineup will be stuck relying on finding that one big inning every game to get the job done, and that’s not a great recipe for long-term success.

3. The very real possibility of a harsh reality check.

OK, now it’s time for the hard truth. Yes, it’s been a really fun first 16 games to the Mariners’ season, but their schedule is about to reveal who they really are.

These are the next four series for Seattle:

• Two games at home against the 13-3 Dodgers

• Four games in Boston against the 10-6 Red Sox

• Four games at Houston against an Astros team that WILL have Altuve, Alvarez and Bregman

• Three games back at home against Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and the 8-5 Angels

We all remember what happened after the Mariners’ 13-2 start in 2019. It didn’t last. And while I’m not ruling out more surprises from this M’s team over the next couple weeks, especially with Lewis back in the fold, it would be foolish to expect the Mariners to keep up the pace they’ve set so far.

The way I see it is that the Mariners will get better throughout this season. More of Seattle’s young players will find their grooves in the big leagues with more time. The eventual arrivals of prospects Jarred Kelenic, Logan Gilbert and Cal Raleigh could provide a boost. But the M’s aren’t there yet, and we’re probably going to see that over the next four series.

Even if this week becomes a reality check, don’t rule out the 10-6 start having an important impact down the line, though. If things do click later on in the season, those first 10 wins are going to come in handy. And when you do get a chance to look back on them, you’ll remember they were pretty fun, too.

This week’s Mariners schedule

All games and shows air live on 710 ESPN Seattle.

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

Follow Brent Stecker on Twitter.

MLB insider Jon Morosi: Haniger’s value is in staying with M’s

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