By John Boyle Herald Columnist
You can’t really learn anything from the first week of baseball season, right? I mean, the Mariners have played six of 162 games. That’s a little less than four percent of the season.
Trying to divine anything out of these first six games would be like trying to evaluate an NFL team at halftime of its first game. (Three points? Man, this Russell Wilson-led offense is terrible. No way that decision works out for Pete Carroll).
So yeah, one week, it’s way too soon to figure much out about a baseball team. But hey, let’s try anyway.
The Mariners play their home opener Monday with either a 4-3 or 3-4 record, and the fact that they’ll return home either a game above or below .500 is fitting, because Seattle came into the season looking like a team that is very capable of having a winning or losing season depending on how a few things shake out.
And even if six games is too small a sample size to project numbers — sorry, Michael Morse isn’t going to hit 108 home runs, nor is Brendan Ryan going to bat .357 for a season — there was something to be learned from this first road trip, which concludes in Chicago today.
For starters, we were reminded that Franklin Gutierrez is capable of really helping this team — you know what’s coming next — if he can stay healthy. Gutierrez has a .389 batting average, two home runs and two doubles in just 18 at bats. While he probably won’t keep that up, just seeing him provide some pop at the top of the lineup to go along with his Gold Glove-caliber defense has to be encouraging for manager Eric Wedge. Wedge always has been a believer in Gutierrez’s talent even as the center fielder has battled illness and injuries, playing just 132 games in the past two season. And that brings us to another thing we’ve learned already this season: Wedge is going to be careful with Gutierrez, who already has been kept out of the starting lineup twice through six games.
“It’s about when I feel like Gut needs a day,” Wedge told reporters prior to Saturday’s game, which Gutierrez did not start. “We’re trying to keep him ahead of it. It was a long night (Friday) night, and with the cold weather and everything, I felt like it’s the smart thing to give him a day.
“He’s performed great. We just want to try to continue to help him physically and make sure we stay ahead of everything.”
Another thing that seemed clear in spring training, and that still does a week into the season, is that this lineup is considerably better than what we’ve seen in recent years. Morse has legitimate power to all fields, as he showed in Oakland. Kendrys Morales isn’t off to a hot start, but his presence along with that of Morse gives the Mariners a much more credible batting order to bottom. The Mariners won’t suddenly turn into the 1927 Yankees (and if they did turn into that team, they’d be really, really old. Or dead) but they will be better.
“It’s night and day,” Wedge said. “If you look at all of our position players and the fact that all of them can play, and then you look at some of the versatility we have in the top, middle and bottom too, it works well.”
So is Wedge saying all of his position players couldn’t play last season? Well, it was certainly implied, and seeing as Chone Figgins was on the team, it’s hard to argue with that logic.
With a better and more versatile lineup, Wedge, who has never been afraid to shake up the lineup, looks like he’s willing to change things almost daily in order to keep players fresh and get everyone at bats. Already backup catcher Kelly Shoppach has started two games, and Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay, while not opening day starters, have both had significant roles the first week.
As for the pitching, Seattle’s first six games did nothing to change the conception about the starting rotation coming into the season: there are a lot of question marks in beyond Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Joe Saunders struggled in his debut, as did rookie Brandon Maurer, though Maurer did have a nice stretch where he settled down before a rough final inning. And Blake Beavan looked pretty darn good in his debut right up until the White Sox started teeing off on him in his fifth and final inning Friday.
Saturday’s hiccup aside, the Mariners should be able to count on greatness from Hernandez and pretty solid pitching from Iwakuma. What those other three — or whoever might step into the rotation later — are able to do could very well define this season.
So, how good are these Mariners we will see at Safeco Field Monday night? It’s far too soon to tell, but if the first week was any indication, they are in a lot of ways what we thought they were heading into the season — a team with a better offense, some question marks in the rotation, and one capable of a winning season if a few things fall into place.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.