You know how you get an Advent Calendar, and sometimes life gets in the way and you forget to eat the chocolate, and then you remember it suddenly and you’re like WOOHOO EXTRA CHOCOLATE! Well that is today, friends.
The Mariners scored 4.72 runs per game this season, good for 3rd-best in the AL. That wasn’t always enough to win, thanks to their pitching rotation, which was less a finely-oiled machine and more an organ-grinder’s sweaty crank of a jury-rigged gearbox, a tune for monkeys to dance to. But after years of seeing depressing games where the Mariners would get an excellent performance from one of their pitchers (usually Félix) with no offense to back it, suddenly it became clear that this Mariners team could hit. One of my favorite games of the season, then, for those who love the dingers: 1-2-3 chocolatey delights as we pop open the windows and cram the candies into our greedy mouths.
I really picked this because Nathan wrote it and it was one of my favorite recaps of the season, the tone of wonder and excitement he captured, the way he put into words what I was feeling. Writing recaps is fun because you get to act as the mouthpiece for a fanbase, to filter feelings through your fingertips and give voice to the feelings rattling around in people’s ribcages.
This was a game the Mariners should not have won. This is a game that most other iterations of the Mariners would not have won. Félix showed he was not Félix anymore, giving up eight runs over just four innings. The Mariners had a four-run deficit going into the 6th, something that would have seen insurmountable one year, two years, three years ago. But these Mariners don’t scrape offense together with a wish and a prayer. This offense has Nelson Cruz rerouting baseballs to Jupiter:
And it had Dae-Ho Lee, during the time when he was his Dae-Ho Lee-iest, smacking two more homers. One, two, three pieces of candy. The 2016 season was full of gluttony.
Lately I’ve noticed a turn towards the anxious on Mariners Twitter. As the days wend on and no starting pitcher appears, the itch to push the panic button grows greater. We look at the top-flight free agents finding new homes, knowing that the team has money to spend, and become frustrated that Jerry is seemingly sitting on his hands. We crunch the numbers and talk about projections and it all comes down to: it’s not enough. Suddenly, Canó and Cruz and Seager are not enough. The moderate upgrades at SS and 1B are not enough. The starting pitching is laughably not enough. But—and just speaking offensively--it’s entirely possible, probable even, that this team is better offensively than last year, or at the very least, a push. Martín will be healthy, first-half Aoki won’t be here, the dual-pronged black hole of Adam Lind and Ketel Marte at the plate will be gone. Catcher is potentially a wash but at least with Zunino starting we know we’ll get good defense, and I wouldn’t discount the benefit of having hitting coach Scott Brosius, who was there with Z in Tacoma, there for full-time tutoring. But what I’d like to focus on here are the comments Nathan links in the recap, specifically this one:
Cruz on what was said in the dugout. pic.twitter.com/ZI5e1esAfy— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) May 4, 2016
At least twice last season, we have direct evidence of players in that dugout who believed in themselves, who believed in their ability to win, and communicated that to their teammates. This is what a core of leaders can do, with Canó and Cruz and Martin, and now Segura. Jerry has talked a lot this off-season about how part of the difficulty in signing FAs is finding guys who will integrate with the clubhouse. There is a very specific culture that has been built in that dugout, and it will only move forward from here. Obviously culture alone isn’t everything—even the strongest self-belief can’t make you swing a bat well with a double hernia—but we saw evidence last year of a team with leaders who can change the energy of a game; players who care, about the game and about each other. That’s not something that figures into projection systems, but it doesn’t mean it’s not very real.