Too early to make sweeping judgments on Mariners

SEATTLE — After watching his team struggle at the plate in a loss for the third time in four games, Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon was asked if he’s worried about his team’s offense.

“I was today,” McClendon said after Seattle’s 3-0 loss to the Oakland Athletics. “When I wake up tomorrow, I’ll be just fine.”

And perhaps that response can serve as a reminder to all of us that a Major League Baseball season is really long. No really, they play 162 games and everything. Maybe everyone in the Puget Sound region needs to remember that after living and dying with every game, heck, every play, of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl season. It’s one thing to overreact to one game of 16, even if it’s early in a season, but doing so during the marathon that is a baseball season is a surefire way to drive yourself crazy.

Just as we couldn’t crown the Mariners AL West champs after their 3-0 start, we also can’t assume they’re again headed for 90-plus losses just because they’ve hit a rough stretch, producing almost no offense in three of their past four games.

“No, no, no,” second baseman Robinson Cano said when asked if he was concerned about an offense that has produced one run in the last two games. “It’s 162 games, we’ve played what, 11 games, and we won six games. You don’t want to look for anything negative right now trying to figure it out, you’ve just got to turn the page and be ready for tomorrow.”

Before Sunday’s game had even ended, I was seeing comments on Twitter, saying things like, “same old M’s,” or that pointed out that a number of Mariners are hitting below .250 after a hot start. And yes, it’s completely understandable that fans are jaded, even after watching their team come out of the gate winning five of seven before losing three of the past four. That’s what a decade of losing will do to a fan base; the Mariners have earned every bit of this cynicism.

But by no means is a rough stretch in mid April a reason to panic. If the Mariners keep losing, we’ll all have plenty of time to pile on the negativity throughout the summer. For now, however, even after another loss, it’s worth realizing that this team went 10 games without losing consecutive games before Sunday’s loss, and still has a 6-5 record with right-handed starting pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker still on the disabled list, and with left-handed starter James Paxton joining them there last week. The recent offensive struggles are a bit discouraging. But on the flip side, the rotation that was supposed to be a huge concern because of injuries has been very good, including a strong outing from Chris Young in Sunday’s loss.

“Listen, when you get two or three hits, nobody looks good, and everybody is talking about the offense,” McClendon said. “But a couple of days ago, we were just fine. This is the big leagues, and a guy threw a gem against us today. We’ll bounce back and we’ll be fine.”

As McClendon notes, A’s starter Scott Kazmir was nearly untouchable Sunday. There was no denying he made the Mariners look silly, giving up just two hits while striking out nine in six innings.

“He was locating everything right where he wanted,” said Cano, who had two of Seattle’s three hits. “He was making guys chase his changeup and slider, and he was throwing the heater 95.”

And while this loss doesn’t prove that the Mariners are once again a team destined for autumn irrelevance, there’s also a good chance that the Mariners aren’t as good as their fast start to open the season. But burying a team’s chances after three bad games in a four-game stretch? That’s just as big an overreaction as declaring that the Mariners had fixed all of their problems after they outscored the Angels 26-8 in the season’s first series.

“I know our guys are a little disappointed, but I said this all along, winning games at this level is tough, and when you run into a buzz saw — Kazmir’s been on fire, and he chewed us up pretty good today,” McClendon said. “But we’ll bounce back, we’ll be fine.”

The Mariners may well be, as fictitious music critic Lester Bangs once put it, “on their long journey to the middle,” and yeah, mediocrity, while an improvement, is still not that exciting. But until the sample size is significantly bigger, there’s no sense in overreacting either way, because one of 162 just isn’t the same as one of 16.

As McClendon put it, the offense was worth worrying about Sunday. Beyond that, it’s probably a little too soon to make sweeping judgments.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com

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