Mariners fans aren’t the type to fear the unknown. It’s the known that terrifies them. All they’ve experienced the past two decades is a team that goes on vacay after the last game of the regular season.
M’s fans would relish in the unknown — they’d beg and plead for it. Alas, once again, this franchise is slipping back into familiar territory.
Reminiscent of the 2019 season, when Seattle began 13-2 and finished 68-94, an ice bucket has cooled off the Mariners after a scorching start. Pitching injuries and dormant bats have them sitting at 18-17 after starting this year 13-8.
This wasn’t unexpected. The tone Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais set with their comments before the season began suggested a mere hop — maybe even a skip — forward, but not an all-out jump. So how should fans feel about this perpetually middling franchise at this point of the year? Is the plan — long and irritating as it may be — coming to fruition?
Here’s a look at some key areas.
Young MLB players
We know how tantalizing prospects such as Jarred Kelenic, Emerson Hancock and Julio Rodriguez are. But what about the highly touted youngsters who have been called up to the show? Outfielder Kyle Lewis surpassed the hype last season when he won American League Rookie of the Year honors. And though he has picked up his game over the past week, he’s still hitting just .258 while slugging .435.
But those numbers are Ruthian compared to those of 25-year-old first baseman Evan White, the former first-round draft pick who is hitting .157. And they’re Maysish when compared to those of 23-year-old outfielder Taylor Trammell, the former first-round pick who was at .157 as well.
Shortstop J.P. Crawford has been solid, as has 25-year-old pitcher Justin Dunn. For the most part, though, the young Mariners have struggled more than they’ve stood out.
Considering the M’s are one game above .500 despite being tied for the worst batting average in MLB (.210), something is obviously working on the mound … right? Well, reliever Kendall Graveman is in the midst of the greatest tear of his career, as he is yet to allow a run — earned or otherwise — and flaunts a WHIP of 0.488 and a strikeout-to-walk rate of 5.33 through 14 1/3 innings. Beyond that, though, the M’s arms haven’t been as dominant as one might think given their batting woes.
Their 4.19 ERA is 10th-best in the American League. When their No. 1 pitcher, Marco Gonzales, was healthy, he still had a 5.40 ERA. As noted earlier, the young Dunn has impressed by posting a 3.51 ERA in 25 2/3 innings over five starts. Aside from that? The pitching has generally been between mediocre and maddening.
The Mariners, who have given up 15 more runs than they’ve scored, have simply been adept at winning close games this season.
This is the big one. This is what Dipoto and Servais have been selling since they began this rebuild several years ago. And with the minor-league season finally underway, fans are getting a taste of that optimism.
Kelenic, who will be called up to the big leagues Thursday, hit .444 and slugged .778 through his first four games in Class AAA Tacoma. And earlier in the month, Servais praised his pitching prospects as the most talented young arms he has been exposed to in all his years in professional baseball. Strong words. And you can tell Servais was sincere. Even so, they are just words for now.
The following can both be true at the same time: 1) Dipoto inherited a team replete with massive contracts for players such as Felix Hernandez that made it difficult to build something new or sign a star who would finally end the M’s playoff drought. This rebuild was necessary. 2) We are six years into the Dipoto-Servais era, and the prospect of ending that 20-year drought this season is looking more and more ominous — at least as far as this season goes.
It appears more and more that Mariners fans are just going to have to wait for their young players to blossom. They know that feeling. They know it all too well.