Thiel: The Mariners’ start, explained. They are Neo
The Mariners’ 10-2 start is largely inexplicable by the known laws of the baseball cosmos. Unless, of course, we have returned to a parallel universe.
What opposing pitchers see when they look at home plate against the Mariners. / The Matrix
What we know with high confidence regarding the 10-2 start to the 2019 Mariners season, best in club history and tops in MLB:
It’s way early.
Not even mid-April.
The Mariners were playing well in 2018 until July 5, then plunged into the abyss.
The season’s four opponents (A’s, Red Sox, White Sox, Royals) entered Tuesday’s games with a combined record of 14-29 (granted, two wins and 10 losses are from the Mariners, but hang with me here).
The Mariners’ opening-day payroll of $151 million is 11th-highest in baseball, including a combined $30 million for Edwin Encarnacionand Jay Bruce, two veteran sluggers who have combined to hit 10 homers this season and 676 in their careers and won’t be here after the trade deadline in July.
The Mariners have yet to experience an 80-game suspension for stupid.
In the two games Felix Hernandez has started, the Mariners are 2-0, outscoring opponents 19-8, an indication that all those career games in which he pitched three-hit, 10-strikeout masterpieces, only to lose ½-0, are balancing out, per terms of the natural law of the baseball cosmos.
Besides leading MLB in home runs (32, most in history through 12 games), they lead in stolen bases (14) and are third in walks (55), none intentional. The combination has not been seen since the Lincoln presidency.
Not only did the Mariners trade away their All-Star closer, Edwin Diaz, they lost his nominal replacement, Hunter Strickland, for at least two months to injury. Yet the bullpen leads the majors in save opportunities (nine), is tied for second in saves (six), and tied for the lead in blown saves (three). This is either a prime example of small sample size, or a breakthrough analytics development in the deployment of the 52-card-pickup model for bullpen creation.
What we don’t know, but can reasonably speculate might be contributing to the start:
“Step back” is baseball code for moon walk, a slick bit of choreography that makes backward look forward.
Pink is the new pinstripes.
Regarding the Mariners’ MLB-high 17 errors, the Mariners are Neo, the high-offense, bullet-dodging Keanu Reeves character in The Matrix.
Despite her absence, Dr. Lorena Martin’s high-performance teachings are kicking in.
When rookie reserve infielder Dylan Moore, whose previous team was the Tomateros de Culican of the Mexican Pacific Winter League, hit his first MLB career homer Monday in the 13-5 win at Kansas City, it went 432 feet. The majestic thump prompted Encarnacion, the 15-year veteran who has been largely mum so far, to lift his cone of silence. “I’ve never seen something like this,” he told MLB.com after the game. “It’s unbelievable. Anybody can hit homers here.”
Trying to be cool in the storm of delight, manager Scott Servais explained it this way: “We acquired a lot of veteran guys this off-season that didn’t really know what they were walking into.”
The veterans didn’t know? Hell, Servais didn’t know. General manager Jerry Dipoto didn’t know. Fans and media didn’t know. The one other time a major-league team entered a parallel universe was the 2001 Mariners season of 116 wins. Only they weren’t moon-walking. Said manager Lou Piniella years after the season: “I still don’t know how the hell we did it.”
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Kirsten Kendrick's Q. & A. with Thiel can be heard every Friday during Morning Edition at 5:35am and 7:35am and again that same day on All Things Considered at 4:45pm. It also airs Saturday at 6:35am and 9:35am.