By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — We’re almost a week into baseball season and — gasp — the Seattle Mariners have a winning record.
Not only that, they’re fun to watch.
Is it time to plan the second parade of 2014 through downtown Seattle? Well, we may want to hold of on that for now. But is it OK to go ahead and get a little excited about the Mariners? Why the heck not? After all, five games into the season, the 4-1 Mariners have lost as many games to Mother Nature as they have to opposing teams.
Felix Hernandez is pitching like, well, Felix Hernandez, the rest of the short-handed rotation has been much better than expected, and the lineup has shown all sorts of promise — though it’d be great if the Mariners could face the Angels bullpen more often.
Look, I get why a lot of fans are hesitant to jump on board. The Mariners are that ex-girlfriend/boyfriend who keeps telling you things will be different this time, only to break your heart again as soon as you let your guard down. And that could easily happen again. Five games is a ridiculously small sample size in a 162-game season. It’s entirely possible that this fast start will be a mirage; that all those runs in the opening series tell us more about Los Angeles’ pitching than they do Seattle’s offense. But until the evidence tells us otherwise, why not enjoy the ride while it lasts?
With Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker injured, the first month of the 2014 season was supposed to be about survival for the Mariners. Instead — and again, it’s really, really early — they’re in first place despite missing two of their top starters.
This Mariners’ start has been so impressive, it’s hard to decide what has been the most exciting part of this opening week.
Hernandez has been great, particularly in Saturday’s dominant start against Oakland, but that’s what we expect out of him at this point. Justin Smoak, he of so many thus far unfulfilled expectations, is actually hitting, certainly at least in part because of Robinson Cano’s presence in the lineup. And so many other young players, from Dustin Ackley to Brad Miller to Abraham Almonte to James Paxton to Erasmo Ramirez are all off to promising starts.
Miller, while not currently the hottest bat in the lineup, has perhaps the most star potential this side of Cano. The shortstop has pop, as is evident in the four multi-homerun games in his young career, is a more-than-capable fielder and most importantly, plays the game with a level of passion that’s impossible not to love.
“He’s got a chance to be a big-time player,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon told reporters in Anaheim. “We really like what he brings to the table.”
And that rotation that past Hernandez was supposed to be a big concern given Iwakuma’s and Walker’s injuries? It’s been an early strength of the team thanks to strong performances from Paxton, Ramirez and even Roenis Elias, who is making the leap from Double-A to the big league, yet looked more than capable while making his first start in Thursday’s loss to the A’s.
Perhaps most encouraging, from a pitching perspective, was Paxton’s performance in Wednesday’s win. Once the third man in Seattle’s “Big Three,” Paxton looks to be picking up right where he left off last season when he was dominant as a late-season call-up.
“That was pretty impressive,” McClendon told reporters after Paxton struck out nine in seven shutout innings Wednesday. “I don’t know what else to say. I don’t have many more adjectives. He was outstanding.”
The 2014 season is still very young; and yes, the Mariners could let everyone down yet again. But given their fast start, and considering how entertaining this team has been, why not hope for the best until there is a reason not to? It’s really easy to be cynical about the Mariners, years of losing will do that to fans, but for now, this is a good time to enjoy the ride. They may let you down in the end — in fact, the past decade tells us that’s the likely scenario — but with the Mariners guaranteed to return to Seattle with a winning record for Tuesday’s home opener, now’s the time go ahead and enjoy this promising start. It may not last, and if it doesn’t, we’ll have months to dwell on the negative.
For now, it’s spring and the Mariners are hitting, pitching well, and most importantly, they’re winning. It’s an usual feeling around these parts — baseball, believe it or not, is fun. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll last this time.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.