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Mariners Table Setter: Whether the M’s are real or not shouldn’t get in the way of enjoying their good start

Mitch Haniger, Sam Haggerty and Ty France have been three of Seattle's top hitters. (Getty)

The Seattle Mariners enter Monday having played 22 games this season.

Mariners’ Graveman has been one of MLB’s best pitchers to start ’21

They matched up evenly with the defending world champion Dodgers, splitting two games. They just left Boston after four against the American League East-leading Red Sox, and they split those games, too.

Before that, Seattle took two of three from Houston, Minnesota and San Francisco each, and three of four from Baltimore. Only the 12-9 Chicago White Sox can say they’ve beaten the Mariners more times than the Mariners have beaten them this season.

It all equals out to a 13-9 record, which puts them one game back in the AL West standings of an Oakland Athletics team that just had a 13-game winning streak snapped Sunday.

And the way this is all being received by some is, well, a bit odd. There is a segment of fans seemingly just waiting for the other shoe to drop instead of enjoying the surprising run the M’s have been on.

I get it. People have long memories, and in the 20 years since the Mariners last made the postseason, they’ve had a handful of hot starts that got some hopes up but eventually fizzled out. And then there are the seven teams over that time that had the audacity to win at least 85 games, including two that had 93 victories, yet didn’t clinch playoff berths.

You have to learn from history or be doomed to repeat it, so it’s OK to have that in the back of your mind. And it’s also understandable that the organization lost goodwill with some as a result of ex-team president Kevin Mather’s troubling statements in February. That is an event that certainly happened, was not good, and should not just be brushed aside.

But the thing about all that is that it has nothing to do with the players that have won 59.1 percent of their first 22 games. Who have come from behind in over half of Seattle’s wins (7 of 13). Who are 4-0 in extra innings and haven’t allowed any of the automatic runners that started an extra inning at second base to score.

Are these Mariners for real? I don’t know, and you don’t know, and the Mariners themselves don’t really know, either. It’s still April. But the M’s are trying to make it all real, and so far to this very early point in the season they have succeeded.

There are reasons to think the M’s can keep this up, and probably a few more reasons to think they won’t (which I’ll get to in just a second). But it’s been fun to watch – as long as you haven’t been waiting for that other shoe to drop.

But I don’t know. Maybe the prospect of getting to say “I told you so” in a month or two is more satisfying than enjoying the times when the local baseball team gets on a surprising run and racks up a bunch of wins. To each their own.

The question of sustainability.

As promised, there are warning signs that while the Mariners have won 13 of 22 and played even with some of the best teams in baseball over their last two series, their run of success could hit some speed bumps before long.

First, the offense.

Ty France (.940 OPS) and Mitch Haniger (.892) are still hitting, Kyle Seager broke out of a slump with a nice weekend in Boston, and Sam Haggerty has been a pleasant surprise and earned himself more at-bats than what was initially planned. But after those players, the Mariners’ lineup falls off a cliff.

Kyle Lewis has only played four games since coming off the injured list and at 2 for 10 he’s still getting up to speed at the plate, but Seattle needs him to get going quick. Dylan Moore’s double on Sunday was his first hit in 10 days, which is alarming considering he was one of the Mariners’ biggest breakout players in 2020. And in addition to Moore, Seattle has Taylor Trammell, Evan White, Tom Murphy, Luis Torrens and José Marmolejos all with work to do just to get their batting averages to the Mendoza line.

The interesting thing about the Mariners’ offense is that it likes to rally, but it will also go through stretches (especially early on in games) of futility. The former is nice, but the latter will eventually make you pay if it’s allowed to continue.

Now, the pitching.

The bullpen has been awesome. It’s just as big of a reason why the Mariners have so many comeback wins as the offense’s rallies, and while bullpens are notoriously fickle, it really is starting to look like a strength that could stick this year. But even if Seattle’s relievers keep doing what they’ve been doing, the starting rotation is far from perfect and remains unsettled after losing James Paxton for the year.

While Marco Gonzales looks like he’s back to his old self, Chris Flexen is opening eyes, and Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn are coming off good outings, it’s concerning that Yusei Kikuchi has given up five runs in each of his last two starts.

The biggest issue, though, is the spot in Seattle’s six-man rotation that was supposed to be Paxton’s. The Mariners have yet to get an outing of more than four innings from a starter in that spot, which Nick Margevicius took over following Paxton’s injury, and Margevicius appears to have an arm issue of his own now. He had to be pulled mid-batter due to fatigue on April 18, and on Sunday he walked four and recorded just one out before having to come out of the eventual 5-3 loss to Boston.

Margevicius will undergo an MRI on his shoulder Monday, and Ljay Newsome, who pitched four scoreless innings to finish out Sunday’s game, will likely be Margevicius’ replacement in the rotation. None of that is what the Mariners hoped for entering the season. Seattle is probably still months away from calling up Logan Gilbert (and no, they won’t be rushing him up), so that sixth spot in the rotation may be an issue for a while yet.

This week’s Mariners schedule

All games and shows air live on 710 ESPN Seattle.

• Monday: Mariners at Astros, 5:10 p.m. (pregame show 4 p.m.)
• Tuesday: Scott Servais Show, 1 p.m. on Jake & Stacy with Shannon Drayer
• Tuesday: Mariners at Astros, 5:10 p.m. (pregame show 4 p.m.)
• Wednesday: Mariners at Astros, 5:10 p.m. (pregame show 4 p.m.)
• Thursday: Jerry Dipoto Show, 8:30 a.m. on Danny & Gallant
• Thursday: Mariners at Astros, 11:10 a.m. (pregame show 10 a.m.)
• Friday: Mariners vs. Angels, 7:10 p.m. (pregame show 6 p.m.)
• Saturday: Mariners vs. Angels, 6:10 p.m. (pregame show 5 p.m.)
• Sunday: Mariners Magazine, 11 a.m.
• Sunday: Mariners vs. Angels, 1:10 p.m. (pregame show noon)

Follow Brent Stecker on Twitter.

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