The Mariners are 113-130 at Safeco Field and that cold, hard fact makes this season poor start at home even more worrisome.
If you want to know why the Mariners think their poor start at home is an illusion, I can go logical or I can go analytical.
And if you want to know why many fans don’t want to hear either, well, it never fails to go emotional. As in, so many years of frustration mixed with shattered hopes. As in, losing records at Safeco Field in five of the last six seasons, including a horrid 36-45 mark last year. As in, an internal reel of feeble offense on continuous loop, dating to about 2010.
Scott Servais, the latest man in the Seattle dugout, counters with the time-honored admonition of Mariners managers: “It will turn. I’m pretty confident it will turn.”
That’s the logical approach, the one that says that it’s foolish to make snap judgments after three lousy games at home. The one that points to the Padres, who were shut out in their first three games of 2016, then scored 29 runs in their next two.
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Servais can point to the 2014 Angels, with whom he and Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto were associated. They were shuffling along at .500 throughout April, and wound up leading the majors with 98 wins.
“We were just kind of treading water near the bottom of the pack, and we had a phenomenal season,’’ Servais said. “When you have a club like our club is going to be when it clicks and it turns over, it’s going to be fun to watch and exciting.”
Baseball can be funny that way. There’s even a statistic that codifies the pendulum effect from both a hitting and pitching standpoint. It’s called Batting Average on Balls in Play – BABIP for short – and the science says that if it’s really high, it’s going to come down, and if it’s really low, it’s going to go up.
Servais pointed out that the Mariners entered Monday’s game with the lowest BABIP in the majors at .229. By comparison, the Tigers were tops at .368, and the American League average was .285. There’s a large body of work that suggests that the Mariners are hitting some bad luck, and it will all even out in the end.
To which many a Mariner follower will no doubt respond, when exactly does the end come? After an encouraging two games in Texas, their offense over the opening home series against the A’s – producing a .155 batting average and a grand total of four runs in a three-game sweep by Oakland – was sickeningly familiar. And Monday wasn’t much better in a 7-3 loss to the Rangers – just seven hits, one of them a two-run homer by Nelson Cruz.
Of the many troubling elements of the Mariners’ struggling past that their new regime is trying to solve, none is more central to a turnaround — psychological and tangible — than figuring out how to thrive at home.
It’s hard to win over the masses when you’re muddling through lackluster games in front of the faithful. Moving in the fences three years ago didn’t really do too much to shake loose some offense, and it certainly didn’t lead to overwhelming success; in the three seasons with a more hitter-friendly yard, the Mariners are 113-130 at Safeco.
Dipoto took the wise approach of trying to tailor the team to Safeco Field, and it should pay off in the long run. Kyle Seager did a good job Monday of explaining the strategy:
“I think this is a different year. We’re built differently than we have in year’s past. It’s been three games. It hasn’t been anything too too crazy. I think that we’ll be fine over the course of the season, because this team is built much more conducive to this ballpark.
“It’s a lot faster team, a lot faster outfield, a lot more athletic. The team runs better; it’s not built just on hitting the home runs. We’ll have the pitching like we have in years past, but just being more athletic on the defensive and offensive side.”
The Oakland series began with high anticipation of seeing this new look in action, and coaxed more than 100,000 fans to the three games.
But the Mariners didn’t do much to win them over with their plodding attack, which featured a combined 0-for-16 mark with runners in scoring position, and 22 left on base.
Same song, different year — and just 13,468 came out on a chilly Monday night.
The Mariners had just one crowd that small all last year, and not until September.
Servais believes with all his heart it will turn. But he also knows how it looks.
“I don’t want to read too much into it,’’ he said. “I want us to go about our work the same way we’ve gone about it, with the same kind of energy in our clubhouse. Of course, when you’re not hitting, it looks like you’re not trying. It looks like, ‘Oh, these guys are dead. They came out flat today. They don’t care.’
“When you don’t hit, that’s what it looks like to the normal fan, but it’s baseball. When you have good players with track records, it will usually turn around.”
It’s the “usually” that scares Mariners fans.