You wouldn’t have known the Mariners had lost 10 of their past 12 based on Scott Servais’ disposition Monday afternoon. Seattle’s skipper was still glowing from the performance pitcher George Kirby delivered in his Major League debut the day before.
The rookie’s scoreless, six-inning, seven-strikeout outing vs. the Rays helped the M’s snap a six-game skid that put them three games below .500 at the season’s 30-day mark, providing some water to a club trapped in a desert of defeat.
“I woke up in a much better mood today,” Servais said. “I know that for sure.”
That speaks to the pick-me-up power of a win in MLB, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Mariners were 13-16 heading into their game with the Phillies on Monday night. This suboptimal start comes after Seattle, which won 90 games last year, added the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner and three former All-Stars to its roster in the offseason.
It might not be a surprise to long-suffering Mariners fans accustomed to the team’s failure to build off winning seasons over the past decade or so — but it’s still a disappointment. So it begs the question: What’s going on with this club?
Some might answer with — exactly what should be happening! The Mariners might have been the biggest overachievers in MLB last season. Ninety wins were about 10-15 more than their season statistics suggested they should have had. Seattle simply didn’t relinquish one-run or extra-inning games last year. Comeback kids one day, closers the next, the M’s seemed to have a two-headed coin for all the 50-50 situations. So even with the big-name additions, this could simply be a natural regression.
Except, what have these big-name additions actually done? Robbie Ray, the reigning AL Cy Young winner, is 2-3 with an ERA of 4.38 and is striking out batters 30 percent less frequently than he did last season. Outfielder Jesse Winker, who played the Midsummer Classic for the first time last season, came into Monday hitting .196 and slugging .275. Second baseman Adam Frazier’s OPS of .659 is almost .100 points lower than his career mark. And though Eugenio Suarez entered Monday leading the team with six home runs, he was batting .204 while slugging lower than his career percentage.
Yes, it’s early. And it’s worth noting that reigning AL MVP Shohei Ohtani, who hit a grand slam Monday, was a middling hitter for the Angels for the first month of the season. Doubtful anyone was too worried about him. Still, a month into the season, these marquee acquisitions have looked more like a bungle than a bonanza.
There’s the bullpen, too. That was the most valuable unit for Seattle last year — the group most responsible for the M’s clinging to those one-run leads. The Mariners’ relievers posted the fourth-best ERA in the American League in 2021. This year, they’re 12th in the AL.
And, of course, there’s the fact that they entered Monday averaging just 2.58 runs over their past 12 games. Servais said that trying to find “offensive consistency” has probably been the most frustrating aspect of this recent skid. Just about everyone in uniform has contributed to the scoring dearth, but it certainly doesn’t help that Jarred Kelenic, perhaps the most hyped prospect the M’s have had in the past several years, came into Monday hitting .152 for the season and .175 for his career.
He is only 22. That can’t be overemphasized. But there are likely a growing number of fans worried that Kelenic is gonna be like “fetch” from “Mean Girls” — something that never becomes a thing.
You won’t hear Servais talking like that, though. He seems unfazed by the recent victory shortage. Asked Monday what he liked and didn’t like about the Mariners’ first month, he focused almost squarely on the former.
“There’s a lot to like about this team. I’m still very bullish — that hasn’t changed even though we’re going through a tough stretch here,” Servais said. “I like the team. The team has stayed together. They’re getting to know each other a little more. You find out more about people when things aren’t going good versus when they are going good. So that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re learning.”
There are certainly reasons to be bullish. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is slashing.340/.435/.546 and is tied for seventh in MLB in wins above replacement. Twenty-five-year-old starting pitcher Logan Gilbert is 4-0 with an American League-best 1.36 ERA. Ty France’s .859 OPS is proving why he might be one of the best players M’s president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has ever traded for. And at some point, injured All-Star Mitch Haniger will return to the lineup.
But this is not a celebratory time for the Mariners right now. Their record through the first month is providing an all-too-familiar feeling for die-hards hellbent on seeing this 21-year playoff drought end.
Servais has every right to be optimistic about his ballclub. Fans, meanwhile, have every right to be skeptical.