3 big questions after Mariners split their opening series

Mar 31, 2024, 6:22 PM | Updated: Apr 1, 2024, 4:42 pm

Seattle Mariners Mitch Garver...

Mitch Garver of the Seattle Mariners gestures after hitting a double on March 28, 2024. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

The first series of the 2024 Seattle Mariners season is in the books, and there’s certainly some unevenness to accompany their 2-2 start.

Sunday: Mariners fall 5-1 to Red Sox, split opening series

Yes, the M’s split the series with the Boston Red Sox, but they come out of it with a minus-4 run differential as their two wins came on a 1-0 shutout and then an extra-inning affair where Seattle had only one run through the first nine frames.

With the Mariners now getting ready for three games against the Cleveland Guardians to close out their opening homestand, let’s look at three big questions left by the first four contests of 2024.

Will the Seattle Mariners get a handle on their strikeouts?

A lot has been made about how the Mariners retooled their lineup to cut down on strikeouts, both when it comes to players and approach.

Related: Why Mariners hitters are embracing new approach to offense

It’s a big part of what new offensive coordinator Brant Brown was brought in to help with, and the end of spring training was promising as the offense seemed to be hitting its stride. Well, then it was stopped in its tracks by the Red Sox.

As of early Sunday evening, 16 teams had played at least four games. Of those 16 teams, the Mariners have less strikeouts (45) than only two of them: the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have 48, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have 52 strikeouts but have played six games. In fact, the one other team that has played six games, the San Diego Padres, still have two less strikeouts than the Mariners on the campaign.

As you might expect, fans are on high alert when it comes to all this, especially since Seattle struck out more than all but one other team in MLB last year. But it’s just four games out of 162 – there’s a lot of time to correct course.

“Offensively, we just haven’t gotten it going yet,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said after Sunday’s 5-1 loss. “Again, it’s four games into the season. We need to be more consistent there in what we’re doing, and we will be.”

More: How worrisome is Mariners lineup’s early strikeout rate?

Something else to consider is that Boston’s pitching staff might just be downright nasty this year. That was a point Red Sox manager Alex Cora made.

“Like I’ve been saying all along: I do believe we’re going to pitch,” Cora said Sunday. “It just kind of shows you what’s possible. You know that your rotation is very talented. We’ve been talking about these guys for a while, since we got here.”

There were certainly moments throughout the series where it just looked like Boston’s pitchers were on their game (as was also the case at time for Seattle’s staff).

For example, this slider from Greg Weissert that went from looking like it could graze Mitch Haniger’s knee all the way to the outer half of the plate.

Or this perfect placement from a guy with a familiar mustachioed face, “The Sheriff” Isaiah Campbell.

And there’s more where that came from.

So yes, the strikeouts are worth monitoring, and hopefully this new approach takes hold sooner rather than later. But don’t rule out the possibility that Boston just began a breakout season on the mound.

What’s up with Mitch Garver?

One of Seattle’s key additions this offseason was designated hitter Mitch Garver, who joined the team after winning the World Series with the Texas Rangers last year.

Garver could be a solidifying piece in the middle of the Mariners’ batting order, but he needs to be in that lineup for that to happen, and so far he has been unavailable more than he’s been available.

Though he pulled a double into the left field corner in Thursday night’s opener for his first hit ever in Seattle, Garver was a late scratch from Friday’s lineup due to back spasms. Fans hoped to see him back in action Saturday, but he wasn’t. And then again Sunday, it was the same deal.

Per ROOT Sports’ Jen Mueller, Servais said Sunday morning that Garver was “moving around much better” but didn’t know if was an option to pinch hit.

Obviously it’s not great news that Garver, who has an extensive injury history and hasn’t played 100 games in a season since 2018, has already missed three times as many games as he’s played. Hopefully the M’s are just being cautious with the 33-year-old Garver’s muscles at the coldest time in the baseball calendar, giving him a little extra rest before sending him back onto the field for a night game on Monday.

Is the real Mitch Haniger back?

Speaking of 33-year-old guys named Mitch with extensive injury histories, how about Mitch Haniger?

The surprise move of the offseason by the Mariners was the one that sent Robbie Ray to San Francisco and brought the one-time All-Star right fielder back to Seattle, and so far he’s looked a lot more like the Haniger of old than the one who played 118 games total over the previous two seasons.

Mitch Haniger feels more comfortable this season back with Mariners

Haniger rolled his impressive spring training into the regular season, going opposite field Thursday for the first home run of the Mariners’ season. He then added an RBI single in Saturday’s win, and he doubled and scored Seattle’s lone run on Sunday.

So far, he’s 4 for 14 (.286), though he did strike out two times in each of the last three games of the series. Then again, who didn’t?

Even more important, he posted. It didn’t seem like he was expected to play every day going into the season, but with Garver out, Haniger stepped up, hitting cleanup on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Garver’s absence also allowed Haniger to play a pair of games as the DH, which isn’t the worst thing.

It’s kind of hard to expect too much out of Haniger this season considering how up and down his career has been due to injuries, but when he’s stayed healthy, he’s always produced. If this series is a sign of things to come, meaning something resembling the 2021 version of Haniger is back in the Mariners’ lineup, it would be a huge development.

The Seattle Mariners this week

Radio coverage of all games on Seattle Sports 710 AM and the Seattle Sports app

• Monday: Mariners vs. Guardians, 6:40 p.m. (pregame 5:30)
• Tuesday: Mariners vs. Guardians, 6:40 p.m. (pregame 5:30)
• Wednesday: Mariners vs. Guardians, 1:10 p.m. (pregame noon)
• Friday: Mariners at Brewers, 5:10 p.m. (pregame 4)
• Saturday: Mariners vs. Guardians, 4:10 p.m. (pregame 3)
• Sunday: Mariners vs. Guardians, 11:10 a.m. (pregame 10)

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Is the Seattle Mariners’ defense going to be a big concern this year?

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3 big questions after Mariners split their opening series