Larry Stone expects this to be the best Mariners ballclub in more than a decade and the one that breaks a 13-year playoff drought.
Here’s what Lloyd McClendon in Arizona said back in February, when people were just starting to figure out that the Mariners might be pretty good this year:
Opening Day 2015Mariners vs. Angels, Monday 1:10 p.m., Safeco Field; TV: ROOT, Radio: 710 ESPN
“In the end, when we get ready to leave here, we’ll have expectations, and they’ll be dictated by me. Not you guys.”
That’s a fine strategy to deal internally with his players, ensuring that they focus on the right things at the right time — preparation in February and March, then the long grind of a season.
But sorry, Lloyd, your influence in that regard stops at the clubhouse door. You’d better cover your ears, because I’ve got some expectations, all right. I can’t speak for all of “us guys,” but here goes:
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I expect this to be the best Mariners ballclub in more than a decade.
I expect the experience gained during last year’s agonizingly close playoff run to provide wisdom and motivation that will serve you in good stead this year.
I expect a Mariners offense that no longer is the dregs of the league, the anchor dragging down an otherwise champion-ship caliber club.
I expect, since we’re the on the subject, for this to be the Mariners team that breaks their 13-year playoff drought.
At that point, I’ll stop expecting, because everyone knows the postseason is a crapshoot. But there’s no reason this team can’t end an 0-for-38 slump when it comes to making the World Series, if things break right. A lot of people, myself included, felt the Mariners were set up for a long postseason run last season, if they had just gotten in.
When you’re hunters, there’s a certain responsibility that comes with it, and you have to prepare to go out and hunt.” - Lloyd McClendon
So there you go. Those are some pretty hearty expectations. But that’s not blind optimism speaking, or wild shots in the dark. The Mariners — finally — have the pitching, the experience and the leadership to get it done. More important, they have the bats — and it’s been a long time since we could say this with a straight face, or without our fingers crossed behind our back.
That’s not to say they’re going to resemble the ’27 Yankees, or even the ’07 Mariners — the most recent Seattle team to finish in the upper half of the American League in important offensive categories.
But I expect the addition of 2014 MLB home-run leader Nelson Cruz and platoon partners Seth Smith, Rickie Weeks and Justin Ruggiano, along with steps forward by the young players already on hand, to push them close to the 700 runs that McClendon has set as his goal.
If this team scores 700 runs (and only eight in baseball did last year), all these expectations should come true, because the Mariners have the pitching to flourish. If Taijuan Walker and James Paxton progress the way I expect they will, Seattle’s rotation would be in the upper echelon among major-league teams, even more so than last year. And even if the bullpen regresses some, as bullpens are wont to do, their relief corps should be more than adequate.
Of course, expecting it, and having the capability for it, doesn’t mean it will get done. Let me be the first (probably not) to say, “That’s why they play the games.”
Fair enough. The Mariners have a sordid history of smashing expectations to smithereens. But I expect the games to be compelling from start to finish, unlike the other recent years in which the Mariners have had lofty goals. Yes, there are danger signs and land mines lurking in the dark, as there always are. But I expect these Mariners to have the wherewithal to circumvent them, unlike past incarnations.
Let it be clear that McClendon doesn’t want to squash anyone’s hopes; he understands why much is expected of the Mariners this year, and embraces it. The analogy he likes to use is that the Mariners are the hunters this season, after so many years of being the prey.
“When you’re hunters, there’s a certain responsibility that comes with it, and you have to prepare to go out and hunt,’’ he said.
You also have to prepare to handle the pressure, which comes with people such as me saying the Mariners should make the playoffs. I’m no lone voice in the wilderness, either; that sentiment that is echoing around the media.
But McClendon likes this kind of pressure much more than what he had in his previous managerial stint in Pittsburgh. With a bad Pirates team, there still was pressure to win, an insurmountable task for a team that was striving merely to survive.
“Trust me, in the big leagues there’s pressure to win,’’ he said.
And when you have talent, as the Mariners do to an extent greater than we’ve seen in far too long, it’s a lot easier to withstand that pressure.
“That’s exactly right,’’ McClendon said with a chuckle.
This year, I expect the Mariners to have the last laugh.
|McClendon as manager|
|Last season with the Mariners was Lloyd McClendon’s best as a major-league manager.|