April has turned to May, and the Seattle Mariners team that opened with a team-record 13-2 start is drifting back toward the .500 mark.
Seattle stands at 18-15 entering a three-city East Coast swing that begins Friday against Cleveland, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Those team each advanced to the postseason the last two years; the Mariners head out on a cold streak — losers of four straight, seven-of-nine and 13-of-18.
How does Mariners manager Scott Servais assess April?
“I think we got off to a good start,” he said. “There have been some rough days in there, which we knew was going to happen, and there’s been some very good days, probably to the point where we’ve been more productive offensively than we thought.
“Overall from me, thumbs up, very positive month. If we’re sitting here at the end of May, and we’ve had as good a month as we did in April, you’ll get two thumbs up from me.”
The upside of the recent skid after such a convincing start? The Mariners are 11-4 on the road to a puzzling 7-11 at home.
Pointing to a clear reason why is tough, players say, but they want to continue producing during the stretches they spend away from T-Mobile Park.
They don’t want to think too much about this trip against an American League Central contender and two perennial AL East powers, but it gives the Mariners 10 opportunities to build on earlier successes.
“I think you try not to put too much pressure on a specific road trip, especially when it’s the first week in May,” said reliever Anthony Swarzak, who formerly played for the Indians and Yankees.
“We’ll save that pressure for the road trips in September, but, as far as a big road trip, any time you play the AL East, it’s going to be a tough (trip) on the road to try to get a series win in those ballparks.”
Swarzak says if any team can prosper on the road, it’s the Mariners, who entered Thursday tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for the best road record in baseball.
“We are in a good place right now,” Swarzak said. “Guys are starting to grind a little bit, and I think that’s good, because when you go on the road, it’s nice to get out of your element and get backed into a corner a little bit and fight your way out.
“That’s what happens on the road, and that’s what I think is going to happen on this road trip is we’re going to show the world what we can do.”
Veteran Jay Bruce, who briefly played in Cleveland in 2017, said a key is playing with the same energy, home or away, regardless of the opponent.
“I think we kind of try to just get ready to play,” he said. “I don’t think we really worry about where we are, who we’re playing or anything like that. We understand that (Cleveland, New York and Boston) are good teams, and these are going to be the teams we want to see ourselves playing at the end of the year.
“But, I don’t think we put too much stock in where we’re actually going, and who we’re actually playing. … I think we just try to keep it pretty consistent with our approach.”
Servais echoed this.
“We’ll get ready to play,” he said. “I’m not really reading too much into it. If we catch the ball, there’s a good chance we’re going to score runs, and I like our chances.
“For me everything is really driven off of our defense and our pitching. That’s how I look at it.”
At times, the Mariners’ approach has made them seemingly unbeatable.
Because of the quick start, the Mariners still led the majors in runs scored (189), RBIs (185) and home runs (60) entering Thursday’s games.
Other days, this has looked like the “step back” season it was projected to be.
The Mariners’ .969 fielding percentage is the worst in the majors — they also have, by a big margin, the most errors with 38.
The 187 runs Seattle’s pitching staff has allowed is second-worst in the league, and their opponents’ .266 batting average against is the fourth-highest.
Plus, Seattle’s batters have struck out a league-high 329 times.
As some numbers mark improvement, and others reveal struggles that haven’t improved yet, Servais vows the Mariners will keep working as the roster develops.
“My goal here was, ‘How good can we get this team to be, and (how can we) get the most out of our players,’ understanding that our roster was going to evolve a little bit as the season went on,” Servais said.
“I’m sure you’ll continue to see change, and as those players join us, can we get those guys comfortable and get them to contribute as quick as possible? If that happens, then we’re doing a good job and getting better.”
Even with the recent rough stretch, there is progress, Servais says, and he expects it to continue.
“I’m not going to try to tie it to wins and losses,” he said. “I think we’re a better team now than we were when we started over in Japan. I feel very strongly about that.
“We’ve made more errors than I thought we’d make, but we’ve had a lot of good surprises as well.”