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The Two Sides of Baseball

Letting my heart run free and my brain over-think, one game at a time.

Seattle Mariners v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

[Ed. note: This year, in lieu of the “If it all goes wrong/if it all goes right” posts, we will instead be featuring a few of our writers meditating on their expectations for the 2017 season. We’ll also do a more nitty-gritty predictions post later on. Andrew led us off, John hit in what we told him was the Mitch Haniger spot, and Matt Ellis stepped in coolly like Robi Canó and popped a gorgeous bubble of words onto the page. Grant Bronsdon wrote passionately on appreciating Nelson Cruz late last year, and now he’ll take Nellie’s spot in our expectations lineup.]

Baseball, like life, has two different lenses through which to view it.

One is the intellectual side, full of hyper-rational logic and objective analysis. This is the Moneyball lens, only without Jonah Hill around for comic relief. We watch baseball and argue about statistics, citing small sample sizes and new-and-improved metrics, all in an attempt to “beat” the game. The intellectual lens morphs what is a child’s game at heart and turns it into an academic exercise.

The emotional lens, on the other hand, embraces the child’s game. This is baseball at its most pure, its most simple, its most real. With the emotional lens, we overreact to every single at-bat. We live and die with every two-game losing streak (guilty as charged). We take each fastball from Felix as proof that his velocity is back and that the King will never leave us.

As I’ve gotten older and as advanced statistics have kept advancing, the intellectual side of baseball continues to hold more appeal. I like feeling smarter than many so-called experts and trying to analyze the best possible decisions for the M’s. I’ve fallen in love with wRC+ and FIP and xBABIP and a whole bunch of other nonsensical initialisms, and they in turn have helped me understand this seemingly-random game on a whole new plane.

This intellectual perspective doesn’t come without a cost. It makes me think of the Mariners’ two-game losing streak to start the season as little more than a bump in the road without much to worry about, since streaks are inherently random, there’s not much correlation regarding one-run defeats, the anchoring effect that causes us to put too much weight on these contests, and so many more reasons.

But there are reasons to worry about this start, and there are reasons to embrace the emotional side of things. And that leads me to the whole point of this essay: my expectations for the 2017 season.

For 15 long seasons, the Mariners have been on the short end of the stick when it comes to the playoff race. They’ve won 90+ games and lost 100+. They’ve missed the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion, through losing swoons in the dog days of summer, through key injuries and terrible trades, through epic collapses given weighty expectations. So, from the emotional lens, of course one could have been nervous even before a pitch was thrown in the regular season.

Once Drew Smyly went down and we heard rumors of an elbow injury, those nerves only amplified.

When the Mariners mustered a measly three hits and Felix left with a groin injury, the whispers around the team turned into shouts.

And the loss yesterday, a typical Mariners loss in so many ways, was certainly disheartening.

Yet even amidst that emotional turmoil, the intellectual side still reassures me that we have James Paxton ready to break out (and oh boy, will he). Nelson Cruz and Robbie Canó still show no signs of slowing down. There are reasons for optimism based on Mitch Haniger’s adjustments and statistics in AAA last year, or Jean Segura’s Statcast-backed changes to his batting stance and hitting style.

I don’t really know what to expect from the 2017 campaign. Perhaps, like so many times before, the Mariners will let me down - but perhaps they’ve figured something out this season. Perhaps the aging core on this team will age a little too much - but perhaps they can buck the inexorable pull of time for just one year more. Perhaps.

But one thing is certain: I’ve neglected the emotional side of this game for too long. This year, I’m going to embrace both lenses of the sport, the intellectual and emotional tied together to create the game we love. I’m going to enjoy 2017 for the roller coaster that’s ahead, with my brain turned on and my heart full of emotions.

As the Mariners put together an eight-game winning streak in late May, I’ll celebrate each game; when the offense sputters in early August, I’ll point to the roots of the drought and identify a path forward. In September, with the Mariners in contention, I’ll hang on every pitch and every swing, but it won’t be until the M’s clinch a playoff spot on the second-to-last day of the season that I’ll finally exhale.

There’s reason to believe this year. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.