The Seattle Mariners (12-2) own the best record in Major League Baseball. Yeah, that’s probably the biggest surprise of the young 2019 season. Is it sustainable? That’s to be determined given how the Mariners are considered a rebuilding team and one whose roster is flawed. But to disregard their electric start is unwise.
It’s no secret that the Mariners ripped apart their roster in the offseason. Even after winning 89 games in 2018, general manager Jerry Dipoto traded away Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, James Paxton, Jean Segura, and Mike Zunino while losing Nelson Cruz to free agency. The general consensus was that they were poised to finish with a losing record and/or rot at the bottom of the American League West in 2019. To this point, that hasn’t been the case, and their talent is glowing, especially at the plate, in the midst of the negative narrative that surrounds the franchise.
Going into their Wednesday night matchup with the Kansas City Royals, the Mariners were first in MLB in runs (104), hits (138), home runs (33), total bases (267), batting average (.294), slugging (.568), and OPS (.948) and third in on-base percentage (.379).
Domingo Santana is playing out of his mind, as he was hitting .345 going into Wednesday night while totaling four home runs and 19 RBIs; Dee Gordon is hitting .333; Tim Beckham is hitting .386 while totaling four home runs and 11 RBIs; Edwin Encarnacion is hitting .333 while totaling four home runs and 11 RBIs; Ryon Healy is hitting .286 and has driven in 12 runs; Daniel Vogelbach has hit five home runs in 26 at-bats; Jay Bruce has totaled seven home runs and 13 RBIs, albeit his .204 average; Mitch Haniger, who hit .285 while totaling 26 home runs and 93 RBIs last season, is hitting just .254 this season. Imagine how dangerous this lineup could be if Haniger begins to hit like his stellar self?
Yes, Paxton was the Mariners ace, and Felix Hernandez has become a back-of-the-rotation starter, but manager Scott Servais still has a reliable starting rotation. Marco Gonzales has been a steady force in the team’s rotation and currently owns a 3.16 ERA; Mike Leake has been inconsistent in years past, but is a veteran and owns a 2.92 ERA this season; Yusei Kikuchi is off to an underwhelming start, but has the command and tools to be an ace in the foreseeable future; Wade LeBlanc is off to a rough start, but capable of being a reliable presence on the rubber every fifth day.
The Mariners won’t be able to simply replace Diaz, who was an All-Star last season, in the ninth inning, but they have some proven veterans in their bullpen such as Roenis Elias, Anthony Swarzak, and Chasen Bradford, and rookie Brandon Brennan is yet to surrender a run in 8.2 innings this season. Granted that aspect of the Mariners could use an upgrade or two, it’s not a detriment to the point where it’s a travesty, or anything remotely close to that.
A big question critics will ask is whether the Mariners have beaten anyone worth noting? Well, they took three out of four games from the defending World Series-champion Boston Red Sox and are a combined 4-0 against the rival Oakland Athletics, who won 97 games last season, and Los Angeles Angels. They also took two out of three games from the Chicago White Sox and have won the first three games in their series with the Royals. The Mariners’ two losses this season are to the Red Sox and White Sox.
So, it’s a mix of both impressive and yawning series wins, but it’s important to consider the turnover in the AL West. Last season it was one of the most competitive divisions in MLB with three teams finishing with 89-plus wins — which included the Mariners. That won’t happen again this season, nor will the competition be as stiff.
The Houston Astros are the best team in the AL West, but they lost Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel (most likely) to free agency, and Lance McCullers is likely to miss this season with an elbow injury; sure, the A’s were a pleasant surprise last season, but their starting rotation is depleted and deprived of depth; the Angels have a potent lineup, but an unproven pitching staff; the Texas Rangers can hit home runs like it’s nobody’s business, but produce little more on a consistent basis.
The Mariners aren’t a World Series threat, and their 12-2 start probably isn’t going to lead to such a run, but whose to say they can’t compete for the playoffs? Their starting rotation is still a respectable bunch without Paxton, and their lineup is arguably the most underrated in the sport. Does a lineup that sports Haniger, Encarnacion, Santana, Beckham, and Gordon sound like an incompetent unit?
This isn’t an example of a team tearing down their roster and camping out in MLB’s cellar; it’s a team who tore down its roster, but built a team that can compete over the course of a 162-game regular season. At the end of the day, the notion surrounding the Mariners means nothing for Servais and those in the team clubhouse. They’re not going to “tank,” or be a laughing stock. They have nothing to lose, and it works in their favor. Everyone expected them to be a dumpster fire, struggle out of the gate, and disappear for the next five years.
When it’s said and done, the Mariners may very well miss the playoffs, keeping North American professional sports’ longest playoff drought intact. But they have the chance to, at the very least, be a sleeper for an AL Wild Card seeding. Their hot start has proven that.