On October 2, 2002 singer/songwriter Warren Zevon appeared with long-time friend David Letterman on Late Night. He made a startling announcement. After decades of avoiding doctors, but fighting chronic shortness of breath, Zevon was diagnosed with lung cancer that spread throughout his body. A year later, he’d be dead.
When Letterman asked what it was like to live with this diagnosis, Zevon’s response was
“You’re reminded to enjoy every sandwich, and every minute playing with the guys, and being with with the kids and everything.”
I swear I’ve begun a hundred posts since the Hot Stove League began. I began a post lamenting Ichiro’s final years as a Mariner, while celebrating his accomplishments. I cheered the M’s on in the early morning hours in Tokyo. I’ve watched with excitement, joy, punctuated with occasional outbursts of exasperation as the Mariners opened the season with an 13-2 record.
I’ve read and heard a dozen baseball scribes explain why Seattle’s success is not sustainable. No team with this many weaknesses can continue to club the ball the way this team has. No team depending on mortals like Tim Beckham, an aging Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce, and a Daniel Vogelbach (whatever that is) can continue scoring at the same rate as the 1932 New York Yankees.
And those weaknesses. The shortstop and third baseman make every thrown ball to first base an adventure. The first baseman (take your pick-Bruce, Encarnacion, Vogelbach) have all the range of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” Center fielder Mallex Smith has a weenie arm. And that’s just on defense with it’s league leading -29 Defensive Runs Saved. The starters have hung in there twice through the rotation, Felix Hernandez’s attack of the stomach flu on Monday notwithstanding. The bullpen, however, is a bit more shaky. Though some of the guys, Brandon Brennan, Roenis Elias, Anthony Swarzak and others have looked good, some would be shot to them moon as toxic waste on a different team.
Is this team for real? Will they continue to score nearly eight runs per game? Probably not. But they have some things going for them that previous Mariners pretenders do not. They finally get this Control the Zone thing. They lead the American league in on-base percentage by nearly 20 points with .373. They also see more pitches than any team in baseball. The M’s lead the league in home runs and average, and to top it off they lead the league in OPS by a whopping 100 points. That only happens if the entire team is in on the fun. It’s not the Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz show anymore Pokey. Just to top things off, this is not your Mom’s big guy with muscles smacking the ball out of the park a la 1963, though they do some of that too. Not stuck playing station to station, they lead the league in walks, stolen bases, and sacrifice flies. The team is hitting on all cylinders.
Will it continue? Can this rebuilt lineup continue to win at their current rate? Not likely. All teams struggle to hit, and the Mariners are mostly winning with nightly heroics at the plate from somebody, as they struggle to get better in those other areas. They’ve had the good fortune to play the Athletics and Red Sox, slow out of the gate, and some teams that simply aren’t very good in the Angels, White Sox and Royals. They’ve beaten those guys, in some cases badly. And honestly some Mariners teams with higher expectations than these guys have struggled to do beat bad teams.
But when the M’s open their six game series at home tonight they can look forward to facing Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole as Houston rolls in for a weekend series, followed by Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer with the Indians. The pitching will be tougher, and we’ll find out just how good the Monsters of T-Mobile Park really are.
Look, the the 2019 Mariners are unrecognizable from the 2018 team that also got off to a strong start, but disappointed. These guys weren’t supposed to accomplish much, and for the first three weeks of the season they’ve been the most entertaining team in baseball. I still think they will be fun to watch, and believe their weaknesses will become a bit softer as the season goes on. But I don’t think they’ll be able to win it all, or even make a playoff spot. I do think they’ll be the most fun Mariner team to watch since 2001.
For Mariners fans, my advice is to take it a game at a time. The Astros are in town tonight, with hated ex-Mariner Wade Miley on the mound. Here’s hoping they give him the Ivan Nova treatment. Remember to keep them in your heart.