To place into perspective the 2011 start for the Seattle Mariners: The last time prior to Sunday (April 3) when players awoke two games above .500 was on April 22 of last year. The M’s then celebrated by dropping 11 of 13. By May 8, 2010, about the time you were mowing your spring lawn for the second time, the local competitive major-league-baseball season had ended.
Reaching three whole games above .500 seemed at least possible but remains elusive after the M’s 7-1 Sabbath pratfall in Oakland. The Athletics salvaged the final game of the first series, meaning, among other things, that Seattle fans still must hark back to the end of the ’09 season to recall a time of mediocrity-plus-three.
Nor is it much of a salve for fans that the 2-1 M’s won the series, with impressive, spectator-friendly 6-2 and 5-2 baseball the first two nights in Oakland. The club has taken such a drubbing since it was 9-7 on April 21 last year that M’s skeptics can find myriad reasons to ask once again whether the 2011 guys will rumble or stumble.
During the Friday and Saturday games, manager Eric Wedge’s men exploited opportunities (six Oakland errors, e.g.) and had precision pitching. On Sunday, with just six hits (Ryan Langerhans’ second-inning solo poke provided the one run) and unconvincing pitching, the club looked like nothing so much as last year’s version, to wit:
Doug Fister gave up just a pair of earned runs during his five-plus innings but reliever Josh Lueke was much more charitable. The controversial Texas Rangers product, who came to Seattle in the Cliff Lee giveaway after Lueke’s no-contest plea from a sexual-assault incident, left the game with a 54.0 earned-run average: four runs in two-thirds of an inning.
The M’s offense had taken advantage of Oakland lapses the first two games. On Sunday, Seattle collected just six hits and, as usual, Ichiro Suzuki (.417) seems to be the only guy in the lineup who can be expected to get on base.
This isn’t to suggest that these M’s are as menaced as last season. Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas pitched in July style the opening two nights. Fister, Erik Bedard and, perhaps, rookie Michael Pineda should give Wedge reason to believe the team won’t have to score runs by the bundle every game.
It’s a good thing, too, because the offense promises zip in the way of consistency. The American League West’s other three teams feature everyday lineups with enviable batting averages and home-run potential. Seattle has Ichiro and eight maybes.
The offensive challenge is pretty easy to see. The M’s, for example, play three in Texas through Wednesday (April 6). The reigning A.L. champ Rangers have a three-through-seven batting lineup with 112 home runs last year; the M’s in this lineup range had 60, with commensurate fourth-rate standing in the other offensive categories.
Wedge, anyway, wasn’t exactly turning cartwheels after the Sunday loss, noting that it’s nice to win the opening series but it’s not okay to leave eight on base in a game that was still winnable in the sixth.
On the other hand, a Bedard charge in Texas on Monday could move the M’s back to that two-wins-above-.500 pinnacle for the second time in a year. Optimists who still recall that time a decade ago when an M’s contingent finished a season 70 games above .500 must think the prospect for coming home for the Friday Safeco Field opener at 5-1 is intoxicating, albeit, improbable.