MIKE SALK

Salk: Mariners have a chance to go farther than any team in their history

Mar 30, 2023, 12:00 AM

Mariners Julio Rodríguez Jarred Kelenic...

Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez celebrate a Mariners win over the Texas Rangers on April 20, 2022. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Opening Day is exciting. Period.

For every baseball fan – diehards and casuals.

It doesn’t matter if your team is expected to win 100 games or lose in triple digits. Baseball is back and it brings the promise of warmer weather, summer nights spent following the ups and downs of a season, mornings checking the box scores (OK, you don’t have to wait until morning anymore), the thrill of walk-off wins, the stress of closing out tight games against a good lineup, evenings at the ballpark with family and friends, running from the car to the living room so you don’t miss a pitch, and making your dinner companions mad because you can’t concentrate on ordering until you see what happens in a key at-bat.

Essentially, the joy of being a baseball fan.

This is my favorite sport and its return never fails to make me happy. But this year should feel different for every Mariners fan, because this could be the best Mariners team of all-time.

Oh boy, I just typed those words and you can’t help thinking it’s hyperbole.

You can’t help but remember the 1995 team that saved baseball in this town or the 2001 team that tied a major league record for wins that still stands today.

You also can’t help but think of the teams that had high expectations but faltered under their weight. The odious teams of the Richie Sexson era when money was spent, but not well. The immediate collapse of the “Believe Big” 2010 team that could pitch but couldn’t hit, and also rotting from the inside out with new players that didn’t really want to be here. The up-and-down seasons of the Canó/Cruz/Seager/Félix core that never seemed to truly reach their potential.

So you’ve seen successful teams and you’ve seen overhyped ones, but this group can still pull off a trick you have yet to witness: they can reach the World Series and in the (edited) words of the great catcher/philosopher Jake Taylor, “win the whole (freakin’) thing.”

They’re perfectly capable of it. They have all the ingredients.

Lefko: Three reasons the Mariners could be better than people think

Starting rotation? Check. They have an ace who gets up for the big moments, three No. 2 starters who attack from different angles, three Cy Young candidates, a veteran innings eater with off the charts competitiveness, depth in case of injuries, and a few young fireballers who could be ready to contribute this year.

Bullpen? Check. None has been better over the past two years than the Mariners’, and while relievers are notoriously fickle and unpredictable, systems and processes are not. The Mariners have had success late in games not because they have relied on the same guys but because they have put players in the best positions to succeed. That won’t change. And it sure doesn’t hurt to have the kind of raw stuff this group offers.

Defense? Check. This team was designed to play in this park and behind this staff. The outfielders can run, their infielders are steady and they don’t beat themselves.

Lineup? Half-check. We know this group has talent and it has some history on its side. This isn’t the 2010 group that started Chone Figgins, Casey Kotchman, Milton Bradley, Rob Johnson and Jack Wilson. This is a team of proven hitters with a good mix of power, speed and on-base ability. Yes, they are taking a chance in left field, but the upside is so high with Jarred Kelenic (and they have the ability to mitigate the risk with AJ Pollock and/or a midseason trade) that it is well worth it.

Superstar? You know it. Julio Rodríguez has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and featured by GQ this week, and that kind of range speaks to exactly who he is. He is the charismatic force with crossover appeal that knows how to work hard, stay humble and continue to improve. As ESPN’s Jeff Passan told us this week, “Julio is everything.” There is no need to say more.

X-factor? We’ll see. The Mariners have certainly had the chemistry over the past few years, and we have every indication that this group is as tightknit as any we’ve seen. But each year is new and those bonds must be strengthened and rebuilt. What gives me confidence is the universal buy-in that Shannon Drayer wrote about this week. A team that trusts the process and each other, takes accountability, and puts in the work should exceed the sum of its parts.

Everything needs to come together for a team, any team, to win a championship. They need to stay healthy. They need a few players to surprise and outplay their expectation. They need to add the right pieces throughout a long season. And they need a few of the right breaks at the right times. But this Mariners team is perfectly capable of going farther than any of its predecessors.

They are a legitimate World Series contender. They could be the best Mariners team of all-time. Yes, the key words there are “could be.” But if they reach their goals? Well, those words will go up in the smoke of the firework celebrations. And it won’t feel like hyperbole anymore.

More on the Mariners from Seattle Sports

Bob Stelton’s Mariners Breakdown: Will they take the next step in 2023?
MLB Network’s Jon Morosi: Mariners have a path to jumping Astros, winning AL West
Drayer: No chasing numbers — Mariners’ Jarred Kelenic commits to his swing
Fann: Three points of optimism, three of concern ahead of Mariners opening day
ESPN’s Passan: Led by a top-5 rotation, Mariners’ ceiling is ‘championship’

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