Stecker: What can be learned from Mariners’ rough opening series

Apr 2, 2023, 6:59 PM | Updated: 9:44 pm

Mariners Eugenio Suárez...

Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suárez reacts after striking out on April 2, 2023. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

There’s no getting around it. The first series of the 2023 Seattle Mariners season was disappointing.

Sunday: Julio homers but Guardians beat Mariners 6-5 after error in extras

The Mariners had plenty of opportunities to put up runs against the Cleveland Guardians, and more often than not they failed to cash in. Even worse, they kicked (or threw) the ball around to the tune of four errors, including three alone in a 9-4 Friday night loss. Compounding that, Seattle pitchers issued 16 free passes, all of which came in the three games following their lone win thus far, a 3-0 victory Thursday in the season opener.

That’s not what the 2023 Seattle Mariners are supposed to play like. And frankly, that’s what made the weekend so frustrating for some fans. But looking at it another way, it’s a reason to be encouraged. Think about how much better this series would have gone if they had just cleaned a few things up?

This Mariners team has the chance to be one of the best in team history, and this fan base knows it. Three losses in a four-game stretch doesn’t change that, but starting out that way is unfortunately going to put a damper on the excitement that was brought into the season. It was a long yet hopeful winter, and those first four games were instead filled with missed opportunities, uneven play, and a reminder that the start of spring in Seattle comes with neither guarantee of warmth nor wins.

That’s just baseball in the Pacific Northwest.

There’s a lot that could have gone better for the Mariners against Cleveland, and the M’s certainly need to learn from it. But putting it into perspective, let’s remember that Cleveland is one of the best teams in the American League. Not just that, but the Guardians are perhaps the peskiest, most frustrating, most lovably-old-school-unless-they’re-playing-against-your-team squad in all of baseball. They’re managed well, have a mystifying bullpen, and seize on mistakes to string together rallies like nobody’s business. You have to be on your A-game against Terry Francona’s club, and the fact is, the Mariners just weren’t this time around.

There would be nothing better for the Mariners than to get off on a hot start this season coming off their amazing, drought-breaking 2022 campaign. The fans have been ready to explode ever since the M’s brought playoff baseball back to the city last October. They sat through 18 excruciating innings in that decisive ALDS loss to the Astros, and while Thursday provided the Electric Factory the chance to make some sparks, the following three games mostly did not.

And frankly, I wouldn’t get my hopes up too much about the M’s going on a big roll any time soon, either. I’m not saying they’re not capable, but playing baseball in the cold isn’t easy, and the Mariners are looking at a whole lot of it in the near future with their initial road stops being Cleveland, Chicago (NL), Philadelphia, Toronto, Oakland, Detroit and Boston. Yeah, don’t put your parkas away just yet, boys.

It would have been better for the Mariners if they came out like a ball of fire. Clearly, though, there’s still work to do. Teoscar Hernández, Seattle’s biggest offseason addition, especially seemed to struggle at the plate, though the double he ripped off the wall in left field Sunday for his first Mariners hit was a good sign. And it’s a tough blow that the Robbie Ray that everyone saw in Arizona, 97 mph velocity and all, was not present in his first start Friday. Here’s hoping that the flexor strain that landed him on the injured list Saturday is nothing too serious and those improvements he showed in spring training can still be on display this summer.

I wouldn’t worry too much about the defensive miscues, something the M’s generally haven’t had too much of a problem with in recent years. The walks problem may also just be an early-season thing, particularly in the much colder weather up here than in Arizona (it does make me wonder just how incredible Luis Castillo is, though, considering how utterly dominant he was Thursday). And while I understand the concerns some have about the lineup, I still think the M’s will be just fine once a few things get tuned up under the hood.

The good news is that baseball’s back. And even though the Mariners didn’t look their best to start, that means they should be able to play a lot better than this. Just because it’s cold now doesn’t mean the forecast for this summer is any less sunny.

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