This is one of the more potent lineups the Mariners have fielded in years. Some teams fall behind 4-0 in the first couple innings and are pretty much done. You get the feeling this group almost sees a deficit like that a challenge.
There have only been three games so far, but when you haven’t made the playoffs in 17 years, and you take two out of three from a team that won 102 games last year, you should feel good about yourself. But if you’re a Mariners fan, the most encouraging game so far might actually be the one they lost.
What the Mariners showed in that 6-5 defeat at the hands of the Indians is something they hope will be emblematic of their season — that with their lineup, they’re never really out of the game.
The injury bug has already begun to feast on the Mariners, but it hasn’t seemed to slow them offensively. You’d think the absence of Nelson Cruz and Mike Zunino would force the pitching staff to play to perfection.
That hasn’t been the case, though. And though the sample size is admittedly microscopic, M’s manager Scott Servais has to be salivating at what his offense can do at full strength.
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Robinson Cano said during the spring that he feels as good as he ever has, and his bat backed that up in the opening home stand. The second baseman went 6 for 10 with two doubles in the series vs. Cleveland and has an OPS 1,436. Cruz has hit a home run in the two games he played. Dee Gordon has managed four hits and a walk over 12 at-bats. But the true Goliath so far has been outfielder Mitch Haniger, who had a higher WAR than Mike Trout before straining his oblique last year.
Through three games, the 27-year-old has gone 5 for 8 with two home runs a double and a walk. He has an OPS of 2,227. Obviously, those numbers are going to regress to the mean in time, but the jury is still out as to what the man’s mean is.
We’ve only seen this guy play 103 MLB games over the past three seasons, and when healthy, he’s been a veritable All-Star.
Everyone remembers the volcanic start he had last year, but what folks might forget is how strong he was in September.
Servais stressed this point in his post-game news conference Sunday, and the numbers back it up. In 119 at-bats last September, Haniger hit .353 and slugged .613.
In other words, what he’s doing might not be a fluke at all. Everyone thought Jean Segura was the big haul when Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto traded away Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte, but Haniger might prove even more valuable.
And given the Mariners lack of depth on the mound, they might need that to be the case.
Taking two out of three from the Indians was impressive, but we’ll likely see the Mariners do well with one of their top three pitchers on the hill all year. James Paxton has All-Star potential, Mike Leake is a career innings-eater who was lights out on Sunday, and Felix Hernandez may go down as the greatest pitcher in Mariners history.
But on the surface, there’s a big drop-off from their No. 3 to their No. 4. Maybe Marco Gonzales and Erasmo Ramirez will prove that thesis wrong that season, but that’s the narrative right now.
But when you have the kind of firepower in the lineup that the M’s have flexed so far, that might not be impossible to overcome.
We know what Gordon, Segura, Cano, and Cruz can do. And despite his slow start, Kyle Seager’s history has proven that he’ll eventually elevate his numbers. But when you have a guy such as Haniger lighting it up, and when you have a player such as Dan Vogelbach coming off an inspiring spring, and when you have a first baseman in Ryon Healy, who hit 25 home runs for Oakland last year, fans can justify their optimism.
Look, I’m not trying to argue that the Mariners are World Series contenders. Fangraphs projects them winning 80 games, which sounds about right.
But I also recognize that this is one of the more potent lineups they’ve fielded in years, and if healthy, will make Cy Young candidates sweat.
Some teams fall behind 4-0 in the first couple innings and are pretty much done. You get the feeling this group almost sees a deficit like that as a challenge.
I don’t know how many games the M’s will actually win this year, but with those bats, I know they have a chance to win every time they take the field.