They had to keep believing in themselves, and give their fans a reason to not stop believing, an existential crisis before the season was two weeks old.
We can now lower the Mariners panic level from DEFCON 1. Perhaps it is too soon to write off the season after all. If hope is the thing with feathers, as poet Emily Dickinson said, then the Mariners haven’t been totally plucked bald after 10 games.
The process of restoring a measure of positivity to what had been a demoralizing start to the 2017 season is what the Mariners accomplished on their opening homestand, and that’s no small thing. They had to keep believing in themselves, and give their fans a reason to not stop believing, an existential crisis before the season was two weeks old.
Prior to the Texas series – right after Houston beat them two out of three to run the Mariners’ record to 2-8 – manager Scott Servais held a series of clubhouse meetings to remind them that all their goals were still attainable. He distributed printed sheets that listed all the dismal stretches of last year’s playoff teams and the last five teams to make it to the World Series, showcasing their 1-9s, 2-8s and 3-7s. Misery loves company, and the miserable sometimes need to be reminded there’s a light ahead.
“It happens,’’ Servais said. “We were the only team to do it kind of out of the chute. But we understand that we have talent, and if you continue to stick together, and believe in each other, things will work out and they’ll turn. That’s what baseball does. It will turn around, but you’ve got to keep grinding, because people don’t feel sorry for you. We talked about that, and our guys certainly responded.”
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That’s not to say that the Mariners, still sitting two games under .500 (7-9) following Wednesday’s 10-5 win over the Marlins at Safeco Field, can start printing out playoff tickets (in fact, they might have to search awhile to find that printing press after 15 years). But they have staved off, at least for the time being, the doom and gloom that had enveloped the team.
“It’s always a good feeling when you win a couple of series,’’ said outfielder Jarrod Dyson. “The guys are starting to lighten up around here, loosen up a little bit. Everybody wanted to get off to a great start; it just didn’t happen for everybody. But we got our minds right and hung in there.”
One of the beauties of the six-month baseball season is that truths reveal themselves slowly, often after deceiving you completely. The red herrings and false narratives eventually get sorted out, and then you see where you stand.
Here are a few things we think we know, however. Felix Hernandez likely won’t be the dominant starter the M’s used to savor, but they conveniently have James Paxton ready to slide into that role. The new model King, meanwhile, is plenty good enough to be an upper-echelon pitcher, his struggles on Wednesday notwithstanding. It is a credit to Hernandez’s maturity and guile that he persevered into the seventh inning after being battered for five hits and hitting a batter in the first inning.
“The entire game was a grind, from the first inning on,’’ said Servais.
The young season’s revelation has been young Mitch Haniger, who is on the verge of spawning Mitch Mania after serving up yet another heaping slice of productivity. Asked if he had ever seen another young player with the propensity for not giving up any at-bat, Servais invoked the name of baseball’s ranking deity.
“There’s a guy in Anaheim who was pretty good too when he first came up. Mike Trout was,’’ Servais said. “I’m not comparing him, but as far as the grind. The nice thing is, Mitch understands his swing, he understands who he is, understands where’s he’s at on our team. He’s just going out and having fun. That’s the big thing – all our guys are starting to relax a little bit, and the talent starts to come out.”
The athletic, rally-stifling outfield that GM Jerry Dipoto envisioned? So far, so good. Going into Wednesday, sabermetric stats showed that the Mariners’ outfield had saved 10 defensive runs, most in the majors by a decisive margin. They also had the highest arm rating, reinforced by Dyson gunning down Martin Prado at the plate in the first inning at a time when Hernandez was hanging by a thread.
The areas of concern are crystallizing – Leonys Martin, Danny Valencia, and Mike Zunino all flailing below .200 (with Dyson right at that number), the reinvention of Felix, Yovani Gallardo still trying to establish himself as the fifth starter, a fluctuating bullpen with mixed results. But the impending return of Jean Segura bodes well for an offense that is still awaiting the unleashing of its most potent assets (non-Haniger division), and the eventual return of Steve Cishek will further solidify the bullpen.
“I think the biggest thing, we stayed upbeat through the whole thing,’’ Zunino said. “We knew it was early, and you’re going to go through stretches like that, but we were sure about the talent in this room. We stuck with that.”
That’s not to say that this revival will continue apace, or at all. Baseball is funny that way. But at least the Mariners, flightless and floundering, have sprouted some feathers in the past week.