The Mariners season is a week old, and though early-April observations about baseball are risky, I’ve already seen enough to make two of them.
The Mariners hitters aren’t as dangerous as they looked during the season-opening series in Texas.
But they aren’t as feeble as they looked over the weekend at Safeco Field because, well, they just can’t be. Facing what amounted to a Pacific Coast League starting rotation, the Mariners bats were comprehensively flummoxed by the Oakland, uh, Triple-A’s.
That the Seattle “attack” managed five runs, in three games — against the likes of Eric Surkamp, Rich Hill and Chris Bassitt — does not bode well for future matchups against more proven major-league pitchers.
“We’ve got to get better,” was how manager Scott Servais assessed a three-game offensive breakdown that spoiled Taijuan Walker’s decent start in the home opener and Felix Hernandez’s spectacular start in the series finale.
“Getting better” would mean improving from 0-for-16 with runners in scoring position against the A’s. The Mariners put their only run across the plate Sunday when Oakland second baseman Jed Lowrie booted Ketel Marte’s inning-ending grounder in the sixth, allowing Nelson Cruz to score from third.
Credit Marte with some hustle on the play — he broke out of the box at full speed, enabling him to beat Lowrie’s throw by a step — but when a team’s offensive highlight is an unearned run on an infield grounder, it suggests getting better is an inevitability, for the simple reason getting worse is impossible.
“Too many empty outs,” said Servais, referring to those brief at-bats that find the Mariners swinging at the first-pitch and hitting pop-ups, routine grounders and fly balls with no carry.
Despite their offensive woes through nine innings Sunday, the Mariners gave themselves a chance to come back in the bottom of the 10th when Kyle Seager led off with a blooper inside the left-field line that put him on second base. Not a particularly impressive hit but the way this season has started, any hit is impressive, especially when it represents a left-handed swinger making contact against a lights-out lefty such as reliever Sean Doolittle.
Man on second, nobody out, down a run in the 10th, a sacrifice bunt is a typical option. But not with Robinson Cano due up, and not with the A’s figuring to outlast the Mariners in any attrition-of-the-bullpen scenario.
Cano got his swings in — so there was that — but the swings missed, and when Nelson Cruz hit what would have been the game-tying sacrifice fly had Cano advanced Seager to third, all it meant was a second out.
Which brings us to the final out and what has the potential to be general manager Jerry Dipoto’s first conundrum involving a position player. Veteran left-handed hitter Adam Lind, the starting first baseman against right-handed pitchers, finished his first week in a Mariners uniform with an 0-for-4 that left him 1-for-15 for the season.
Enter Dae-Ho Lee, whose ability to hit 88-mph fastballs is unquestioned. His bat speed on pitches thrown in the mid-90s? The jury is out.
Lee’s Korea-to-Japan-to-the-U.S. saga is the stuff of a feel-good movie script. But if his bat can’t get around on power pitches that present the ultimate challenge to any hitter new to the big leagues, the movie script is moot.
The Mariners hitters are better than the three days of crumbs they produced against Oakland. Between the terrific weather and large, enthusiastic crowds, everything was in place for a sweep.
And there was a sweep, of the worst kind.
The beauty of baseball is how the season is so long, it takes us from the chill of spring to the cold of autumn.
Between now and then, the Mariners are going to put the ball in play out of reach of a fielder. They will do this in succession, leading to a run or two or sometimes even three.
It’s gonna happen. It’s gotta happen. And if the Mariners want to reassure us they’ll be relevant after the All-Star break, they’ll make it happen this week.