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How much do you believe in these Mariners? A RoundtabLLe

The 2021 Mariners are fun, so far. How far does so far go?

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Coming off a two game series against the best team in baseball where the Mariners [checks notes] did not get blown out of the water, there’s understandably some excitement around a team that was projected to be anywhere from Not Very Good to Downright Unsightly. The Mariners haven’t necessarily been playing well, but they have been playing like a high stakes gambler whose kneecaps depend on the next dice roll, and that’s been good enough to chaos-ball their way into a winning record so far. Naturally, as is the bent in Seattle every time the Mariners have a winning record, like androids dreaming of electric sheep, the ravenous hive mind of the fanbase turns to playoffs. In April, before the crushing weight of math comes to bear, everyone is free to dream big dreams. It’s the best time of year for optimistic baseball fans. We checked in with the LL staff to measure the levels of belief we have in the Mariners sustaining their particular brand of chaos ball long enough to sneak into the playoffs this season, or if this start has changed our accounting of the team at all.

Connor:

Belief amount: 40%

Why I’m skeptical:

At some point, the top third of the lineup is going to regress. Kyle Seager’s fallen back to earth pretty quickly after that monster two-dinger game in Minnesota, Mitch Haniger’s been cold lately, and while Ty France has stayed hot, he will doubtlessly slump at some point. Without a couple more hitters in the lineup turning things around, this club is going to be starved for runs no matter how promising the pitching is.

Why I’m bought in:

Bought in? Not quite yet. Intrigued? Absolutely. They just went toe-to-toe with the best team in baseball. José Marmolejos hit a 114 MPH home run! The bullpen (the bullpen!) has been a major strength the first couple of weeks. 11-7 has felt much more real and sustainable than 13-2, and with Kyle Lewis back and Jarred Kelenic on his way soon, there’s a chance the chaos ball wave gets ridden even longer.

Joe:

Belief amount: 33%

Why I’m skeptical:

It’s easy to be skeptical for me at this point. Wins and losses aside, the Mariners are running a negative run-differential and are seemingly winning game in large part due to Haniger-France-Seager with almost zero contributions elsewhere. The bullpen has been a pleasant surprise, but they’re also performing at a clip that is entirely unsustainable. JP Crawford is “hitting”... but isn’t slugging a lick. If this team is to contend, 1-2-3-4 will need to continue to rake.

Why I’m bought in:

While much of the team may be overachieving, some of the guys have some regression to the mean in front of them. Tom Murphy is better than he’s been, I think. Evan White’s brightest days are clearly ahead after a slow start. Dylan Moore figures to be better than he’s been. Also, KYLE LEWIS! These, plus the eventual arrival of Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert make for an entertaining, if not competitive, summer ahead.

Zach

Belief amount: 0.5%

Why I’m Skeptical:

I could list every single hitter on the roster aside from Mitch Haniger, Ty France, Kyle Seager, or Kyle Lewis. And even with those, I can’t pretend I’m sure that Lewis will fix last year’s strikeout issues, or that Seager’s, Haniger’s, and France’s success is sustainable at this level. On the pitching side, I could certainly see Justus Sheffield and Yusei Kikuchi turning in career years. I could see Logan Gilbert come roaring out the gate. But I probably can’t see ALL of those things happening, which is what the Mariners need. Besides, [gestures at steaming crater where bullpen should be].

Why I’m Bought In:

I’m not. The Mariners have constructed a roster picture that is sadly familiar: it’s a roster that only has a chance if 80% of the players on the team hit their 90th percentile projections. The odds of that happening are… 0.5%. Notably, the odds are not 0%.

Eric

Belief amount: 5%

Why I’m skeptical:

This was not a playoff team on paper before the season started and it won’t be a playoff team even if Jarred Kelenic arrives and rakes immediately and if Logan Gilbert starts budding into an ace starter. The organization explicitly did not spend the very small amount of money (approximately $20-30 million, a literal drop in a bucket for ownership) it would have taken to supply the affordable and controllable MLB-ready depth that this roster desperately needs to make any semblance of a deep playoff run. Once the injuries started, these choices and their consequences were laid bare: a month of Jose Marmolejos and Sam Haggerty plate appearances, sprinkled with some Braden Bishop. The one free agent the team did spend some money on, James Paxton, needed Tommy John surgery after 24 pitches. The bullpen is currently standing on one leg on a rickety chair changing a light bulb that’s full of kerosene and the rest of the AL West is holding a match. But, despite all that, they sit at the top of the AL West with the plucky, annoying as hell Oakland A’s. I don’t know what it is with this team and completely unsustainable season opening runs (/glares at 2019 team), but they’re doing it again and we all know how it ends.

Why I’m bought in:

I’m not, but crazier things have happened in baseball and that’s one reason we watch. I am sticking with my preseason prediction that this will be a more FUN team to watch and that has proven very true with these Chaos Ball (Patent Pending) comeback victories and walk-offs. We should continue to get to see key players take steps forward in their big league development and we’ll see Kelenic and Gilbert at some point, hopefully soon. So, it’s a FUN team, but it’s not a playoff team. I’ll take wacky wins and some stellar individual performances over apathy and 100+ losses any day, especially if the team intends to actually spend next offseason to turn this team’s good core into a playoff team.

Kate

Belief amount: 27%. Clapping like Tinker Bell won’t die, but knowing she will. (Captain Hook, aka the A’s, killed her.)

Why I’m skeptical:

I am still scarred from recapping all those spring training games where this offense scored one run. And that was with KLew, Jarred, and even Julio lengthening the lineup. When the offense looks bad—when the lineup isn’t being carried by Seager and France and Haniger, or as Matthew calls them, Three Men and Some Babies—you wonder how any of them get a hit any time. I live in constant fear of this team getting perfecto’d, which at least would fit in well with this year’s chaos ball theme. And then there’s the inconsistency of the pitching staff, which has been riddled with injuries among the starters (most lately Nicky Marge forgetting to eat a banana before his start, and Marco’s recent bout of ZeroCommanditis) and a bullpen full of high-wire artists performing scenes from the 1990 movie Flatliners during their outings. It’s frightening! But it’s also exciting. (Cue the Jessie Spano gif, I want to make sure this paragraph is entirely unintelligible to anyone born in 1995 or later.)

Why I’m bought in:

Chemistry: my worst subject in HS, my favorite thing in a baseball team. This team genuinely seems to like each other. They gas each other up on social media, they talk a lot about how they believe each other. It’s a different group than the 2018 crew, who also seemed to like each other and then there were fights in the locker room; these are young players, several of whom came up with each other in the minors, all working against a baseball-wide perception that they aren’t much of anything (as well as the comments of a disgraced former team president). The cliché “hungry dogs run harder” is popular in baseball for a reason, and while the dogs are limited some by features they can’t control—size, stride length, a rival pack that can buy all the best wolves from anywhere in the world—it’s been entertaining to watch this group of ragtag best friends Milo-and-Otis their way into some early success.

Addie

Belief amount: 50%

Why I’m Skeptical:

The hot bats aren’t always hot, and the bullpen can’t possibly be this good forever. Losing Paxton was obviously a blow, and I don’t trust the back of the rotation as-is (Newsome etc.) but with the low expectations I had to begin with, that doesn’t bother me too much. That sounds like I don’t believe in any part of this team, but I do! Maybe the key word there is believe.

Why I’m Bought In:

This is not the team that will win a championship, or likely even a playoff game. The core of a team that could, however, feels present in a way that I can’t ignore. Sure, I’m buying into only a few games of success, most of which were close games or come-from-behind wins, but winning the close games and pulling off the comebacks are things that teams with potential do. Like Kate, I’m swayed by team chemistry and a general sense that the players themselves are optimistic. I believe that we haven’t just seen flukes in the flashes of glory, and I #TrustTheProcess.

John

Belief amount: 21%

Why I’m Skeptical:

I’ve heard the one about banking wins in one-run games before, and I didn’t like the punchline. I’ve seen what happens when cluster luck runs out and the 1-2-3 of the order scatter their hits across their 3-4 plate appearances while the back of the order chills their bats in a walk-in freezer. I’ve even seen a whole lot of movies about players expected to be scrubs scrapping it together against the big bad superteams and succeeding even without their brash, talented, expected best player. It’s a lovely sentiment, but there’s nothing less lovely about a club being better AND brash AND having plenty of those same lovable scamps. Who, after all, doesn’t love a scamp? But I’ve seen the healthy Astros lineup, and the way this club is still so raw and taking their lumps as they learn to handle big league pitching. It’s gonna look rough some nights, and promising others, it’s just a little too much baseball left for me to see smooth sailing in the short term even if the sea is safer long term.

Why I’m Bought In:

I believe in Ty France’s bat, Mitch Haniger’s everything, and that breakfast food is one of humanity’s crowning achievements. I believe Kyle Seager remains solid, the rotation is a relatively high-floor, albeit very low-ceiling group, and that there will be a few decent relievers borne out of this current cadre. Taylor Trammell looks like a rookie who will become a solid big leaguer over time, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of in showing feats and flaws in a debut season, as so many ultimately excellent players have. The steps taken by so much of the pitching staff embolden me, that this is a strength that can last, and knowing that for the position players and rotation in many ways the best may be yet to come makes every high and low more bearable by a thousand measures.

Isabelle

Belief amount: 3%** [Stuffs Ty France into cryogenic Wait-Till-Next-Year box, bubble wraps Fake Mitch and adds him to box]

Why I’m skeptical:

I hear “good” baseball teams need this thing called “pitching.”

Why I’m bought in:

I mean, no. I’m not. But this is how a rebuilding team on the precipice of its hypothetical window is supposed to feel: Exciting production from some young and/or new guys, solid steps forward, working and learning through mistakes, etc.

**Note: Team success and our respective belief percentages could have easily been improved by doing ~literally anything~ in the free agent market this offseason

Matthew

Belief amount: 11%

Why I’m skeptical:

Oh I don’t know, just everything that’s ever happened to the Seattle Mariners since 1977?

Why I’m bought in:

If there’s a reason to buy in, for me it lies in the possibility that reinforcements are coming? Kyle Lewis’ return from injury was the first one, and Jarred Kelenic should be here soon, which likely removes the daily Marmolejos or Haggerty spot in the lineup. The bullpen certainly isn’t this good but I can twist my brain in a way to believe that a bullpen can be logic-defying and still effective. The relievers’ strategy of letting the other team make contact, never striking anyone out, yet still getting out of the inning before all of Seattle pukes up their heart, is not a good one. But it’s working! I’ve liked Scott Servais’ bullpen usage so far, which could actually be one thing that’s sustainable throughout the year, even if the results start spiraling.

Amanda

Belief amount: 20%

Why I’m Skeptical:

Over the last few years, we’ve had streaks like this. Suddenly the team we thought would be terrible is putting it all together and playing good baseball. We all get excited. Maybe this is it! The year we’ve been waiting for! Inevitably, it all evens out and the team has the season we all thought they would. To me, there’s no reason to think this will continue all year. The Mariners bullpen being good and effective? In this economy? But I think that’s all the more the reason to accept the inevitable crash to earth, and just enjoy the hell out of this as long as it lasts.

Why I’m Bought In:

I’ve been around long enough to clearly remember the improbable run in 1995. The magic of that was imprinted in my brain and an impressionable age, and my brain will always believe that beautiful, impossible things can happen in baseball. Even in the most dire of Mariners times, there is always a part of me that never stops believing. So, no, I have no good reason to be bought in.