Mariners manager Scott Servais seems like such a decent sort that I wanted to be a bit sensitive with my question about his team’s meager 2-7 record heading into Wednesday night’s game.
You know, give him a little lifeline with an opening concession that it’s so early in the season and pretty much every team is still figuring out how all their pieces fit together.
Servais didn’t even need to hear the end of the question: “This is the big leagues,” he said. “It’s about winning and losing, it’s not just about development here.”
Well, OK, good. That makes it clear that nobody is more aware of the Mariners’ shortcomings than Servais.
Getting off to a quick start this season was listed as one of the team’s goals in spring training.
Their 86-76 record last season seemed to establish a positive trajectory. And a strong April might fend off the Here-We-Go-Again crowd that has been conditioned by the absence of back-to-back winning seasons since 2002-03.
But heading into the Wednesday night game against the Astros, the M’s were among the worst in the majors in stranding runners in scoring position (hitting 12 of 80 in such opportunities), and in fielding (six errors in nine games).
And at the plate? They were batting .205 as a team.
“You leave spring training with a certain plan and it looks great on a board — where all the pieces are going to work and the lineups are going to look, and then you have an injury here and there, which we’ve had a little bit,” Servais said. “Every team goes through that a little bit.”
But, once again, Servais returned to the bottom line: “The games in April are just as important as they are in September, there’s no doubt there.”
Last season, the Mariners still had that fresh, new-management scent. It was a time of transition, with Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto laying the foundation of the new Mariners.
And now, these are their guys, their clock is ticking, and there’s still a lot of moving parts in need of meshing.
Their core remains, but key players like Robinson Cano (34 years old) and Nelson Cruz (36) aren’t kids, and ace Felix Hernandez is 31 but has pitched 2,426 innings.
Consider that mileage. That’s very close to the number of innings Nolan Ryan had at the end of the season in which he turned 31. And it’s roughly 800 more innings than Randy Johnson had at that age.
Servais cited the youth that’s stepping up, with outfielder Mitch Haniger leading American League rookies in six offensive categories, and utility infielder Taylor Motter (stepping in for injured shortstop Jean Segura) smacking three doubles on Tuesday.
The blend of vets with kids was important this season. And for the most part, the starting rotation has been solid in the process.
But the record is a challenge that can’t be overlooked.
Last season, Servais cited clubhouse unity and camaraderie as the stuff that helped the M’s stay mentally tough during the down stretches.
Does the team have that yet?
“It does take a while for that to come together,” said Servais, who has designed some spring training activities specifically to “get everybody to know each other and kind of break down the walls around them.”
But, particularly early in a new season, the team hasn’t had much time to build its collective identity, and that trust can be fragile.
“When you get off to a slow start, everybody focuses in on what I need to do, and sometimes you lose the feel for the big picture and what’s going on with my teammates,” he said.
It’s a quality that could come in handy if the wins continue to be this rare.
“It’s a big part of successful teams, you have to rely on each other and believe in each other,” he said. “We do have that feeling here; it will continue to grow.”
But the wins have to come, too, because this is the big leagues.