If this is what April is like for a contending team, I don't think I'm going to survive September.
After watching every game the Mariners have played so far this season, I decided to take yesterday off. I'd spent the week away on business, and after I watched the Felix game immediately upon my return home yesterday, I decided to step away to spend the day with my significant other.
So what did "off" mean? Walking around Seattle with my face glued to Twitter and Gameday. It was spending a little extra time in a Macy's dressing room to catch a few more pitches without drawing my girlfriend's ire. It was making a deliberate trip to the team store to watch just half an inning on TV. It was feeling nervous to the point that I was nearly physically ill during Abraham Almonte's ninth-inning at-bat.
But for as foreign as this feeling is, to care so much so early and enjoy that first week of baseball more than any I have in years, I can't say it was unexpected. The Mariners had a lot of things go right through their first six games, but there's nothing here that was improbable. Unsustainable? Sure, maybe. But this is the level the team is capable of playing at.
When I last wrote here, before game time on Opening Day, I explained—as I begged for this year to be a fun one—that this team is capable of making Seattle fall in love with baseball again. We're not all the way there yet—but oh, this start.
If I were to pinpoint one thing that best underscores what I see—that despite the Mariners not being some juggernaut, they can still be quite good—it'd be the performance of our friend Abe Almonte. It's funny how both his detractors and fans have been right thus far. Well, the detractors who weren't citing spring training statistics over and over.
He's going to make his mistakes, on the base paths and in the field—and there's bound to be a few more times where Andy Van Slyke has to stick a finger in his chest and tell him what's what. But that's not going to be the last time he posts a 145 wRC+ week, either.
Here's the thing about depth, at least in sports—it doesn't only go up and down, backwards and forwards. It goes sideways too. And right now, 1-9, closer to center fielder, this is a deep team.
The Mariners do not have the stars that other teams do—well, some other teams—but it's balanced. And if we've seen anything early on, it's that they have enough talent to pick each other up. Sometimes a 3-0 stretch is going to give way to a tough series loss to a good team, but when you put it all together, this can work and it can win some games.
Tomorrow, James Paxton will start in front of 45,000 people, many of them getting their first look at the talented lefty who's now bordering on 'phenom' status. If he does anything near what he did in his first start, most will walk away shocked—shocked that what had looked like a rotation filled with question marks actually had a kid this talented. But should we be?
Paxton's been a different pitcher since he changed his delivery and approach midway through last season, and his ceiling has always been high. Then, of course, there were those four starts against contenders down the stretch. Is he going to win every decision and hang up a sub-1.5 ERA up in the process? No—but he's capable of stretches like this. Because he just did it.
You can go on and on with this.
Is the Mariners' defense all that great? No, this isn't some run prevention machine. But going from one of the worst defenses in recent baseball history to one that's currently about average—and allowing the fourth-lowest BABIP, actually—is going to win you some ballgames.
And so is Justin Smoak when he's swinging the bat right. I don't know about you, but Robinson Cano and Lloyd McClendon sure as hell know more about hitting a baseball than I do. And when they're willing to look at Justin Smoak and see someone who could still yet become useful, maybe we shouldn't be so quick to believe they don't know what they're talking about. He's not always going to be the monster that he was in the first series, nor is he going to to be as unproductive as he was down in Oakland. It'll probably be somewhere in the middle, and that may yet be a good baseball player.
Though our thoughts with regards to Brad Miller are much different, the same holds true. He may be on fire in one series, and not in the next, but it can all average out to a great player.
And oh hey, Dustin Ackley might have a boatload of hitting ability in there after all.
Mike Zunino? Some days, he's going to seemingly start every single at-bat down 0-2, but he's also going to hit three-run bombs on pitches where it looks like he's hit a lazy fly out. And through it all, he's going to play the best catcher defense we've seen in years.
Some days we're going to see 2012 Erasmo Ramirez, and others it'll be the 2013 version.
You can do this almost every single player. What, honestly, have you seen that wasn't well within the realm of possibility? What's shocked you thus far?
This can, of course, work both ways. We all love Lloyd McClendon, but we knew he was a bit of an old-school manager, and that sometimes means saving the closer for a save situation—or maybe trusting Tom Wilhelmsen a bit too much because of his history. But you know what else is old-school? Late-inning defensive replacements. And getting in an umpire's grill over a bad strike call, even when the game's already over.
LLoyd's set the tone with this team, made clear what he expected from players, and they've played hard for him. Was it a certainty? Nope. But it isn't surprising either.
I'll say again what I said a week ago: we don't know what's going to happen with this team. I won't sit here now and say the Mariners are definitely going to make the playoffs—but again, I won't be shocked if they do. This team can do it.
I asked before the season, that more than anything else, I wanted this year to be a fun one. Playoffs or not, I don't see that stopping anytime soon.