Here it is, the final Sunday of April. The first full month of major league baseball. The end of the beginning, so to speak, of a season that lasts long enough for those maple leaves just beginning to form in your backyard to fall to the ground.
And which team hit the ground running faster than the Seattle Mariners?
No one, really.
The M’s enter today 18-12, best in the American League West and among the best in baseball.
But is this unexpected spurt out of the gate something substantive, or is it more like the smoke that whiffs over T-Mobile Park’s left field whenever the garlic fries burn?
It’s hard to envision a way for the 2019 edition of the Mariners, rebuilt by general manager Jerry Dipoto fully expecting to, as he called it, “take a step back,” to continue to lead the American League West as May turns to June.
But our vision doesn’t matter all that much, despite having a forum to share it without having to sign up for the Facebook or Instachat.
What matters is how the Mariners faithful see it. Are they convinced? Bought in? Or are they jaded by past failures?
We are not in the correct income bracket to commission Gallup for a scientific answer, so we did the next best thing: We asked the three biggest Mariners fans we know.
Three fans from different stages on life’s journey, linked by their love of the Northwest’s baseball club. And all willing to rant to me when things aren’t going well.
We wanted to know what type of season would be considered a success, what with Dipoto’s waving of the white undershirt before it began and then the unexpected April showing.
The corollary to that question is simple: Will the success continue, and for how long?
To take their temperature, we used the most modern of methods: We texted them questions and let them text back. That way, they didn’t have to listen to me whine – or vice versa.
Michael Preston is the youngest of our group, a Washington State graduate who returned home to Seattle to start his career. At 31, he’s rarely seen the M’s have success, considering he was just beginning high school the most recent time they made the postseason.
Almost 20 years of futility have followed, and yet Preston hasn’t lost hope. He’s always willing to share his thoughts on the M’s and, along with his wife, travel from West Seattle to T-Mobile for games – he’s been to three already this year.
How would he rate the surprise nature of their start?
“Very,” he texted. “I was not expecting them to rip off 13 of their first 16, especially considering the opening series against Boston.
“I think we are all surprised.”
Well, that’s not true.
Steve Pry is a producer at 700 ESPN/105.3 FM, the only sports talk station remaining in Spokane. When we sit in on the Patchin and Lukens Show, Steve is more than willing to share his thoughts, mainly based in statistical analysis, but tinged with the nostalgia of those who grew up with Ken Griffey Jr.
“I’m not surprised by the Mariners’ current 16-11 record (as of Thursday),” he texted. “What is unexpected is the streakiness of that record, win six, lose six, win three, lose three.”
Jay Humphrey has been a Mariners fan since they entered the league, though that doesn’t stop the longtime West Valley High basketball coach from expressing his disdain about their play in recent years via text.
Which makes this month worth savoring.
“Very surprised,” he wrote. “Hitting has been way better than I thought it would be.”
But … “defense, ugh.”
Preston believes that’s the place the M’s will improve the most with the return of veteran third baseman Kyle Seager from the injured list. When the former Gold Glove finalist is back from his spring injury, it should allow Ryon Healy to move back across the diamond.
“They can finally have their infield defense as optimal as possible.”
But will that translate into a winning record?
“I think they can sustain it with improved defense,” Humphrey texted, then also mentioned something you hear coaches talk about often: chemistry. “I think the clubhouse is way better this year.”
Still, Humphrey and Pry believe just breaking even is the benchmark for this group.
“I would consider a .500 or better record to be a successful season,” Pry texted.
Preston, the only one of the three to see multiple games in person this year, hasn’t set the bar as high.
“I’d be fine with 70 to 75 wins,” he wrote. “They seem to have enough pieces to make that a manageable goal.”
Pry, as is his way, expects that just may be the case as well, as he breaks down the rest of the season.
“I would expect them to … regress toward .500 in May. June and July look to be tough, they could slide back considerably then. August is the toughest month, schedule-wise and September could be meaningless.
“The next 35 to 40 games will tell us a lot.”
A lot more, it seems, than the first 30.
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