STACY ROST

Rost: For Mariners at quarter mark, why arrow could be pointing up

May 24, 2022, 9:12 AM | Updated: 10:53 am
Mariners...
Jesse Winker, Julio Rodriguez and Dylan Moore celebrate a 7-6 win against the Athletics on Monday. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It could always be worse for the Mariners.

What if the Mariners don’t meet their expectations this season?

It’s hardly a sentiment that will – or should – make fans feel better about the rocky start to this season. Finally, this was supposed to be the year a club two decades removed from the playoffs would make noise in the fall. Seattle entered the offseason after playing in front of an electric crowd at T-Mobile Park, where fans flooded the stadium in droves in late September and early October to see whether they could be at the game in which the Mariners punched their ticket to the postseason.

It didn’t happen. The drought lived on, but fans and players alike entered the offseason with renewed excitement about this ball club’s chances in 2022.

The hardened skeptic would tell you there have been many versions of this Mariners team – a team that gets you to believe just enough before it inevitably disappoints you, reminding you why you were hesitant to buy it all in the first place.

For some, identifying the real issues that can derail a season doesn’t ease the feeling that settles in at the open of every October since 2002: that this nearly-impressive level of sustained failure is the result of something intangible. A curse, bad luck, or perhaps a dose of irony and baseball oddities reserved exclusively for a city that would have a bitter appreciation for it.

A more optimistic fan would tell you this iteration is different; the Mariners aren’t selling snake oil, but are instead touting a group of young players who have garnered praise from around MLB. Owning the No. 1 farm system in baseball has historically been an indicator of future success, with all but one franchise to be ranked No. 1 since 2005 making the playoffs within the next two seasons.

Julio Rodríguez, who was MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 prospect before he made his debut in April, has the potential to be a superstar. Already, Rodríguez is meeting those expectations. After struggling with strikeouts (and some questionable calls) to start the year, the 21-year-old rookie is slashing .345/.377/.534 in his last 15 games.

Logan Gilbert was American League Pitcher of the Month in April while former AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis is expected to return this week, and one-time All-Star Mitch Haniger will eventually make his return to the lineup, as well.

Pitching around the league is the best it’s ever been, and Seattle isn’t the only team to face offensive struggles. The roster isn’t as deep as fans had hoped and the division is better than expected, but there’s 75 percent of a season still to play.

Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle: a fan who knows the promise this young team carries but who worries it won’t be enough to get there in 2022.

At the quarter mark of the season, it helps to have an outside perspective. And no matter where you fall – skeptic, optimist, or someone in wait-and-see mode – a conversation with The Athletic’s Eno Sarris made one thing clear. It really could always be worse.

When we talked to Sarris, an MLB reporter who is plenty familiar with the Oakland Athletics and their current low point, on Monday’s edition of Jake and Stacy on Seattle Sports Station, he responded with a laugh when asked whether Mariners fans should be hitting the panic button.

“I don’t know,” Sarris said. “I mean, I see a lot of things that are going right. From the metrics I look at, this bullpen is amazing and has some really great young talent that they’re going to have for a while in it.

“I look at that rotation and I see Logan Gilbert and (rookie George) Kirby, and they look like they’re excellent pitchers, and (the Mariners) have supplemented that with the veterans. I don’t really have an answer for you. I know in the past they’ve sort of over-performed and maybe this is just the karmic gods saying, ‘Hey, you used to do so well in one-run games and now we’re gonna zap you.’ But when I look at this team, I’m excited about it. There’s a lot of talent here. I think a couple guys need to turn around, a couple guys need to get healthy. But I don’t see a fundamental flaw or problem with this team.”

That the Mariners (18-25) sit just above the A’s (17-27) in the bottom of the AL West is disappointing. Seattle is a team that’s supposed to be making a push for the postseason. The A’s are a team that had an offseason fire sale and are in rebuild mode. But Sarris isn’t the only critic who believes the arrow is pointing up for Seattle compared to other struggling clubs. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reiterated his own belief in the Mariners earlier this month.

The Mariners have a chance to dig themselves out of a hole with a series against Oakland this week, and they began the campaign with a win Monday night. A series win, followed by competitive ball against the visiting Houston Astros in a three-game weekend set at home, could shift the conversation by June. Then comes the tough part: following it up.

“Good way to start the homestand,” manager Scott Servais said postgame Monday night. “Need to keep it rolling.”

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