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The Seattle Mariners and Good Problems to Have

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

 

On Sunday, the Seattle Mariners beat the Texas Rangers 7-3 in a spring training game. Firstly, spring training scores and stats are not an indicator for a successful baseball season. Players are generally working on specific aspects of their game and trying to get their minds and bodies ready for another marathon 162-game season. Pitchers will often work on the same pitch for the better part of an inning, just trying to get comfortable with their throwing-mechanics. That tends to inflate some stats, as batters will cue in on a pitcher who’s working on his curve, then sit back and tee off. 

The point being, spring training is essentially inter-squad practice. What you take away from it isn’t the scores, it’s the progress players have made and the areas the team needs to improve. And with a new coaching staff and a mostly new team, it’s about implementing strategy and learning to play together. And that’s why Sunday’s game against the Rangers stood out to me. 

The first time through the Mariners’ batting order, the team had three hits, two walks, two runs and three steals. There was also a sacrifice bunt from Chris Taylor to move a runner to third and one strikeout. Just one! All of that happened without Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager or Robinson Cano in the lineup. 

The Mariners were perfectly practicing the game plan Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais have been preaching since arriving in Seattle. From an offensive perspective their philosophy is: get on base and create havoc with speed. And even though spring stats don’t mean much, what you see on the field does, and it’s good to see the young players and new players on the team buying in to the plan and having success. 

It’s still early in spring training, but of the few position battles going on, the players with the most at stake are showing it. Taylor, Luis Sardinas and Shawn O’Malley are all taking advantage of every opportunity to show the coaches what they’ve got, as are Dae-Ho Lee, Stefan Romero and Jesus Montero. 

Sardinas in particular has stood out at the plate, with three doubles and five RBI’s in his first five games. He’s looked sharp defensively and can play anywhere on the infield. Scott Servais says they’re going to give him a look in centerfield. If he can play center, he would be a true utility player and could more justifiably take up a roster spot. 

Montero is out of options and either has to make the team or clear waivers, which would likely mean the end of his time as a Mariner. So he’s looked good with the bat, and has made a lot of progress at first base.

Last year, Jesus came into camp having dropped a bunch of weight and then spent most of the year in Tacoma, where he crushed AAA pitching and got more experience playing first. This year, he didn’t want to show up lighter in Arizona. He wanted to show up right where his weight was last year, but with more muscle, and hopefully more dexterity. Hitting coach, Edgar Martinez (I love writing that so damn much), has been working with him on shortening his swing and getting his bat through the zone quicker. On Sunday he hit one to the warning track that was tracked down a few feet from being a three-run homer, and then hit a double to deep right field later in the game. 

For all of the heartache and frustration Montero has caused Mariners fans in his time in Seattle, I really want to see him make this team and have a productive year at the Major League level. I don’t know, maybe it’s that I recognize how far he’s come since being that overweight kid who showed up to camp out of shape saying that all he’d done during the offseason was eat. I see the work he’s put into being more athletic, and hear him talk about how having a kid has helped him grow up and learn to not take anything for granted. Maybe I just want to see one of the super-prospects the Mariners have brought into their system in the last few years actually turn out to be a superstar. 

What I don’t want to see is Montero win the job by default. That’s what’s so exciting about seeing contested competition for the open roster spots. Lee and Romero playing well and pushing Montero to play his best baseball are good for this team’s future. Sardinas and O’Malley pushing Taylor to play his best baseball are good for this team’s future. I hope Scott Servais and Jerry Dipoto have excruciatingly difficult decisions ahead of them. 

If the 2016 Mariners’ pitching and defense have improved as much as they look like they have on paper, they’re not going to give up a lot of runs. And if you have a team built well for run-prevention, you can win games with speed and fundamentals. The Mariners have a lot of speed up and down their lineup, and potentially coming off their bench as well. I’m a firm believer that with pitching, defense and speed, you don’t need a ton of power to win baseball games. And even then, the Mariners have some pretty good power hitters on their roster as well. 

I feel like I should be lashing myself as I type this, because I should honestly know better by now. But this team looks really good… so far. If we get to Opening Day relatively healthy, my expectations are going to be much too high. After all, we’re due, right? 

 

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