There are a slew of superlatives you can assign to the start of the Mariners’ season, which had them on a 94-win pace heading into Monday’s game versus the Rays. But here’s the question: Can you call it real?
Call it fun. Call it surprising. Call it invigorating, too.
Call it exciting, galvanizing and utterly impressive.
There are a slew of superlatives you can assign to the start of the Mariners’ season, which has them on a 96-win pace after Monday’s 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
But here’s the question: Can you call it real?
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Not only are the Mariners exceeding expectations as a team, they are exceeding them individually.
Comparing most players’ 2016 stats to their career numbers is like comparing a Maserati to a Mazda.
The relievers have never been this dominant. Robinson Cano has never flashed this kind of power. And while some scouts envisioned this level of dominance from Taijuan Walker in the future, he hasn’t shown it in the past.
So on behalf of skeptical M’s fans — and Lord knows they’ve earned the right to be skeptical — I asked players and manager Scott Servais the following Monday: Why should we believe this will last?
“We’re having fun,” said Walker, whose 1.97 earned-run average through six starts is nearly twice as good as his 3.89 career mark. “That was the biggest thing since Day One, is Servais said to just go out there and have fun, and that takes so much pressure off of trying to win.”
Walker added that the team’s relaxed vibe endured through the five-game losing streak in mid-April.
He added that the only time he’d been part of such a confident clubhouse came in 2012, when his Jackson Generals went 79-61 in Class AA.
Hey, even sabermetricians will admit the mind is a powerful force in big-league baseball, which is why Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto hired sports psychologist Andy McKay as his director of player development.
But has this start really been the product of more positive brainwaves, or is regression about to lure these guys back to the mean? For instance, when you look at the bullpen — first in MLB in opponent’s batting average — you can’t help but notice the statistical spike across the board.
Closer Steve Cishek’s ERA of 1.06 is less than half of his 2.74 career mark.
Nick Vincent’s ERA of 1.38 is almost half of his 2.53 career mark.
Vidal Nuno, meanwhile, is at 1.86 compared with 4.32, while Mike Montgomery is at 2.76 compared with 4.32.
So either pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre deserves an eight-figure raise, or this is an aberration, right? Well, Vincent offers another point of view.
“Coming in, I didn’t know a lot of these guys, but they all seemed like they were pitching with a chip on their shoulder,” the 29-year-old right-hander said. “We just have a lot of guys who want to compete.”
The idea that success among relievers is “contagious” might not play well with modern MLB analysts, but there may be merit to it. Seattle’s bullpen in 2015 wasn’t all that much different from the one the year before, but the results couldn’t have been much further apart.
Maybe these guys are feeding off each other. Maybe 90 wins is a possibility. Maybe that 14-year playoff drought will end in October.
Or … maybe it’s just been a nice month.
As Jeff Passan of Yahoo! pointed out recently, Felix Hernandez’s average fastball has been under 90 mph this season.
His strikeout-per-nine-innings rate is also at a career low, as is his strikeout-to-walk ratio. Such numbers would suggest the 2.27 ERA he has after Monday’s victory is rather fortunate.
But that doesn’t seem to concern the Mariners right now.
Monday, Cishek echoed Walker’s thoughts about the clubhouse vibe, later saying “I’m not a guy who guarantees anything, but I can guarantee that we’re going out there and giving it all every single night.”
Nelson Cruz added that while it’s impossible for any one player to stay hot for an entire season, the success of late has created a distinct atmosphere.
And when Servais was asked what he’d say to the cynical Seattle fan in the midst of all these W’s, he offered two words of advice: “Enjoy it.”
Probably a good call, Scott.
You can’t say with confidence that the Mariners will sustain their current level of play, but you can’t say for sure that the wins will cease anytime soon.
So yeah, enjoy it.
The players all say they’re having fun. No reason fans can’t do the same.