The Mariners are off to an unbelievable 13-2 start. So unbelievable that no one believes it.
I’m a sports fan. As such, living in Seattle for over 40 years has always been tough. Seattle has gotten a bad rap for being a lousy sports town. But times have changed. While it’s true that visiting Seattle these days can be challenging and downright dangerous, recent teams in other sports have won championships. The Seahawks, Sounders and Storm have all won championships in recent years. More recently the NHL has decided to give Seattle a franchise and we even have a professional rugby team, the Seawolves. If you haven’t watched them, you should, they’re pretty good, too.
The Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto shocked the baseball world and Seattle fans with an aggressive gutting of last year’s team. I’ve never seen so many trades. Fear gripped me during the offseason. I shuddered at the thought of having to wait until 2022 to have a shot at a World Championship (the teams published goal) not to mention having to learn new players names and stats.
While the Mariners hot start is being poo-pooed by many skeptics, let me explain why we shouldn’t be skeptical. Let’s closely examine the schedule first. Two games versus Oakland in Japan. Yes, these were emotional games because of Ichiro’s impending retirement, but nevertheless the Mariner’s swept, pounding out homeruns and using adequate pitching to get the job done.
The MLB schedulers pitted reigning World Champs Boston Red Sox against Seattle to start their season, figuring an easy 3 of 4 game set going to Boston. But to everyone’s surprise, Seattle won 3 of 4 and should have swept if it weren’t for a late inning homer off our (unknowingly) injured closer.
Next came the Angels of Anaheim or California or wherever they say they’re from these days. Another series sweep, despite them having the best, most expensive player in major league baseball, Mike Trout.
The Chicago White Sox are a team that’s always playing for a title in the Central Division and once again had it not been for a late inning bullpen meltdown (12 straight balls to walk the bases loaded followed by a hit batsmen) Seattle should have had another series sweep. But baseball is about series wins, 2 of 3, 3 of 4, etc. Four game series sweeps are extremely difficult and seldom happen, even for the best teams. That’s why the 4 game sweep in KC is so impressive, despite the fact that KC has lost like 9 games in a row. These are still professional baseball teams.
If you like baseball like me, you like the “game within the game”. The small idiosyncrasies of the game, like the duel between pitcher and batter, defense and offense, who’s on base, how fast is he, what’s the count, what’s the defensive setup, the list is endless. It’s the strategy that’s the lure.
Historically, the Oakland A’s have been known for working counts and taking pitches. Not so for Seattle. They’d swing at early pitches and get behind in the count and then strikeout on lousy pitches or hit useless ground balls or popups. This year, all that’s changed. Hitters are taking more pitches and working counts like I’ve never actually witnessed before. Opposing pitchers are racking up pitch counts early and aren’t making it past the fifth inning in most cases. That enables the offense to dig into the opponent’s bullpen early and by the second or third game, their bullpen is spent. Nothing but good can come thereafter.
Power is another big surprise. Speed is another. One thing I’ve always liked is the Seattle manager Scott Servais. He manages the team the way I’d manage the team (I’m no expert, just a fan). He gives guys rope until they hang themselves. His calls and lineups are rock solid. I love his attitude and team building ability.
But something you can’t measure is heart. This year’s team has heart and a chip on their shoulder. They feel they have something to prove and so far, they’re proving it.
Yes, it’s early and hope springs eternal in April. But the early signs indicate that this is no ordinary Seattle Mariner team. They have made fundamental and infrastructure changes from top to bottom and this year’s team is something special. No need to keep your fingers crossed. Strap in, it’s gonna be a great ride!