First four games doth not a season portend - Salish Current
April 1, 2024
First four games doth not a season portend
John Stark

Will Mariner fans be dancing in the streets about the results of the 2024 season? After just four games, it’s too soon to tell, but not too soon to speculate, says one fan. (Courtesy John Stark)

April 1, 2024
First four games doth not a season portend
John Stark

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The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

Seattle Mariners: What ratio of joy to despair must we savor or endure between cherry blossoms and the fire of autumn leaves?

Since their genesis in 1977, the Seattle Mariners have had their ups and downs, downs, downs. That doesn’t make them special.

But as every true Mariners fan knows, this team is unique in one way: No other team has managed to avoid the World Series year after year.

In 2001, when the team won an astonishing 116 games, we thought the Mariners were on the edge of greatness, ready to take their place alongside baseball’s other legendary dynasties.

What they were actually on the edge of: an epic playoff-free streak that was the longest in all professional sports by the time it ended in 2022. 

That was quite a burden for fans to bear. Sports broadcasters in every sport would often mention the Mariners as the world leader in playoff futility, whenever they were discussing some other team’s dreary history. It could come up during a hockey game.

As the 2023 season approached, we Mariners fans made the same mistake we made in 2002: We thought our team was ready to build on the previous season’s success. It never works that way for any team. Amid the blooming optimism of spring, every team starts with zero wins, and despite some awesome hot streaks, the 2023 team coughed up a playoff spot at the end of the season.

Now, with the first four games of the 2024 season complete, we are left to wonder what ratio of joy to despair we must savor or endure between cherry blossoms and the fire of autumn leaves. 

If you try to project the end of the Mariners’ 2024 season based on these four games against a lackluster collection of Boston Red Sox, I will lose all respect for you. But as Aaron Goldsmith remarked on Mariners radio, just before game 4 got underway, we do need to talk about these first few games, because what else is there to talk about?

First, the bad news: Staff ace Luis Castillo performed more like a back-of-rotation guy in the first game, giving up four runs in five innings. The bullpen gave up a couple more, and the Mariners never led in the 6–4 loss.

Then, in all three of the remaining games, the Mariner hitters produced a single run after nine innings. 

That sets the stage for the good news: Against long odds, the Mariners won two of those three games. 

In the second game, George Kirby silenced the Sox for 6 and two-thirds  innings, and the bullpen sealed the deal, with closer Andrés Muñoz in top form. One run was enough.

In the third game, Logan Gilbert held the Red Sox to a run in seven dominant innings, but the Mariners could not add to the single run they scored in their half of the first. On to extras: The Red Sox pushed the ghost runner home and added one more. 

A team with a loser’s makeup would have wilted right there. Instead, the Seattle hitters played small ball to push three runs across for the win, with Julio Rodriguez providing the walk-off single.

Before Sunday’s game, Rick Rizzs and Dave Sims solemnly promised the faithful that the bats were bound to wake up. I agree, but the sticks still slept through Sunday as the Red Sox took the final game 5–1. Scoring once is not a winning formula unless it’s World Cup Soccer.

Takeaways:

• The Mariners’ pitching looks like it may live up to lofty expectations, assuming Castillo gets back in the groove. Both Kirby and Gilbert look like Cy Young contenders. After one game.

• I haven’t seen anything to soothe my pre-season fear that the lack of a big bat or two behind Julio will make runs hard to come by. But there are hitters in the lineup who could step up and provide the lightning to support the pitching heroics, if we see their best selves: Mitch Haniger, Jorge Polanco, Ty France. Their production, or lack of it, could determine the fate of this team in 2024.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to avoid second-guessing the team execs’ decision to say goodbye to Teoscar Hernández and Eugenio Suárez. Hernández is good enough to make the Los Angeles Dodgers’ lineup, and Suárez is starting for the reigning National League champion Arizona Diamondbacks. 

The duo has combined to drive in eight runs for their new teams — four RBIs apiece. The Mariners’ team run total is nine. 

There’s no point in looking back. Before the season started, I guessed that the Mariners would win between 85 and 95 games, and I’m sticking to that. At the low end of that range, they miss the playoffs again. At the high end, they could win the Western Division. Ten games will make the difference. That’s baseball.

Anyhow, I’m old enough to remember the 1980s, when an 85-win season would have had us dancing in the streets.

By John Stark

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