BY Art Thiel 01:10PM 04/09/2019

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:

  1. It’s early.
  2. It’s way early.
  3. Not even mid-April.
  4. The Mariners were playing well in 2018 until July 5, then plunged into the abyss.
  5. 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).
  6. The Mariners’ opening-day payroll of $151 million is 11th-highest in baseball, including a combined $30 million for Edwin Encarnacion and 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.
  7. The Mariners have yet to experience an 80-game suspension for stupid.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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:

  1. “Step back” is baseball code for moon walk, a slick bit of choreography that makes backward look forward.
  2. Pink is the new pinstripes.
  3. Regarding the Mariners’ MLB-high 17 errors, the Mariners are Neo, the high-offense, bullet-dodging Keanu Reeves character in The Matrix.
  4. Despite her absence, Dr. Lorena Martin’s high-performance teachings are kicking in.
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.”
  7. 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.”

Welcome back to The Matrix. Control the zone.


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YourThoughts

  • Kevin Lynch

    Interesting thoughts, Art. I believe it may simply be aliens messaging from space and using the Mariners with 7’s and 3’s being key. Witness: the other day 3 White Sox relievers left the game against the M’s with the same ERA – 7.71. WEIRD. Then, I noticed yesterday Mike Zunino’s slash line with Tampa – .077/.077/.077. DISTURBING. Not the batting average, which we’re used to from Z, but the 7’s. The Mariners starting lineup featured 3 latinos, 3 caucasians and 3 blacks. All I would need now is to see a Mariner make 3 errors in an inning. Or weirder, a player make errors on 3 consecutive plays!! But that’s not gonna happen…

    • Tian Biao

      Aliens? definitely possible. but I’m going with the moonwalk / pink pinstripes / Dr. Lorena Martin explanation.

      • Kevin Lynch

        Dr. Lorena Martin is a strong through line. I agree. Ha!!!

      • art thiel

        Appreciate the support.

    • drwheelock

      Kevin we did see Moore already make 3 errors @ 3B in 1 inning. Then Beckham last week did 3 errors in the 1st inning. So you can check that off in your post now too.

      • Kevin Lynch

        Yes, I know. It was tongue in cheek satire. Sorry that did not come through.

        • art thiel

          I got it, Kevin. It can be lonely out there on the edge.

    • art thiel

      Let’s agree, Kevin: If you put down the crack pipe, I will too.

      • Kevin Lynch

        Well, if it made one person laugh it was probably worth it. Bottom line with M’s and baseball is that we can’t really tell. Their starting pitching MIGHT be good enough to make the playoffs. Or not. I suppose it’s part of the joy of baseball. It’s less predictable than basketball or football.

        • art thiel

          If you have a taste for randomness in sports, the M’s are your team.

    • Husky73

      “Don’t you ever get down on your knees and thank God that you know me, and have access to my dementia?” (former Yankee executive George Costanza)

  • drwheelock

    Art I’ve been saying since this offseason that our offense Dipoto has put together has been better than the past 3 years offense. In rebuilding years you don’t normally invest in your BP, but “if” by chance this offense keeps this up you’re gonna see Dipoto quickly address that.

    Look at #2-#8 hitters in our lineup. Anyone of these at anytime can hit a HR. They are ALL working counts to 6-12 PC’s at nearly every AB. Then last nights lineup to keep Bruce, EE, Vogelbach in the game Servais puts Haniger in CF just so we can keep watching the HR show with EE, Bruce, Vogey ‘again’. We also have 2 of the top 3 MLB SB guys batting #1 & #9, and thus we are leading MLB in SBs too. Our OF defense is solid. Our IF defense has been atrocious, but should improve with Seagers return in early June. There is also a great chance Seattle breaks the 100+ MLB record and hits HRs against KC pitching over the next 3 games.

    Now with all that said? Seattle offense hasn’t been doing this against cheesy a$$ pitching. They did this against the A’s 2 top SPs in Tokyo, BoSox top SPs (including Cy Young Chris Sale), Angels, and 2 of ChiSox best SPs too. They are pushing these Top of the Rotation SPs out of the game by the 3rd inning in every game.

    Is this sustainable?! Maybe not, but it sure is damn fun to watch everynight so far!!! Even the errors are ok from the ‘newbies’, because you have to expect these young players to make errors to adjust. I don’t like the errors, but NO ONE was expecting the Mariners to come out of the gates like this NO ONE!

    • art thiel

      In semi-seriousness, the most impressive stat so far is the 55 walks. That suggests a plate discipline that will serve them well. The control the zone idea is working for holdovers Healy and Vogelbach, maybe for Gordon. Encarnacion would hit under any condition, any place. Bruce is all or nothing. Haniger and Smith can be long-term 3.0 WAR guys.

      • JoeBlow

        The OBP is critical to success. Look at how the A’s did it for so many years.

        • art thiel

          True. It’s why some hard-cores didn’t like Ichiro’s offense. He wouldn’t take walks.

          • JoeBlow

            I was one of them although I appreciated his uniqueness.

  • John C. Morris

    Art, I have been waiting patiently for the last 3 days on your take of this surreal season so far. You are the only Seattle Sports writer I trust to help me make any sense of this completely insane season. Been following them since the Julio Cruz days and so ultimately I have them pegged to win 65 games this year. However, this start has been fun as hell and to me has no rationale behind it. Really enjoyed your story today. Also really curious how Steve Kelly would have written up this start.

    • art thiel

      Glad you didn’t require a rational explanation. I don’t like lying to readers.

  • 1coolguy

    I have an idea as to what’s happening: The spirits of The Kid, ARod, Edgar, Buhner and Ichiro have assumed their new, younger bodies into these players and as long as we don’t tell them, it will continue. As soon as they find out, poof! it’s over. So mum’s the word!

    • art thiel

      Traditionally, the spirits of Scrapiron Stinson, Kevin Mitchell and Bobby Ayala have run stronger through the franchise.

      • 1coolguy

        OMG Art – Bobby Ayala??? I do hope you haven’t just put a hex on us. Has there EVER in MLB history been a more sure bet to blow a save? Why the M’s didn’t put him down in Tacoma to ride pine is beyond me, as he was SO bad he was untradable (is that a word?).
        For those too young and therefore fortunate to not have experienced Ayala, his last season with the M’s as their #1 reliever was 62 appearances and a 7.29 ERA, I shix you not! That’s how bad the M’s management was. How do you keep putting a 7.29 ERA into a game?

        • art thiel

          Remember the earnest rumors that Ayala had compromising photos of Piniella’s relatives? That’s how bad it was.

        • woofer

          Time to bring back Heathcliff Slocum. Or trade for him.

  • tor5

    I’m glad you’re recognizing and documenting these mysterious patterns, Art. I think it’s the same force behind the NCAA women’s basketball final. When Ogunbowale desperately tried to make her first free throw, she missed. Then when she tried to miss her second free throw, it went in. As long as we hold onto the mindset of this being a throwaway, rebuilding year, we can’t miss. The only way to ruin this is to try and tinker to make the team “better.” It’s the George Costanza theory of doing the opposite of your better judgment. It works!

    • art thiel

      I know Dipoto will love your analogy between him and Costanza.

    • Husky73

      See above.

  • Parts

    As a Mets fan who recalls the beginning of last season, I’d like to encourage Mariner fans to enjoy this run while it lasts. May you still have hope as August rolls around.

    • art thiel

      M’s fans would counter that they saw it in Seattle last year, when the M’s were solidly in the playoff mix July 5. You preach to the choir.

      • Parts

        Indeed!

  • Guy K. Browne

    I know that as soon as I ask this question, the gig is up and the losing begins, but what becomes of the current plan, to offload valuable hitters to contenders for prospects (to bolster contenders pennant run chances), if the Mariners are still playing strong ball in July? What makes this plausible to me is that considering the Mariners history of futility, could they also be horribly inept at a rebuild and screw that up by winning?

    • art thiel

      Fair question. Jerry Dipoto told Larry Stone that 60 games is the custom before considering changes, but suggested that if they have the best record in late July, he would add. But not at the cost of premier prospects recently acquired. Which likely means he would stick to the original plan of unloading big contracts, because the M’s can’t sustain this pace.

  • WestCoastBias79

    Wins in April count the same as wins in September. I thought they’d be garbage. I also thought they’d be bad in 2001 after losing A-Rod. Paul Abbott had like a 37 run ERA in 2001 but still won 20 games. Weird stuff happens apparently every 18 years with this team. It’s the most Mariners thing ever to not even tank correctly.

    • art thiel

      Remember in 09 when the M’s needed to lose only the final game of a meaningless season to get a shot at drafting Strasburg, but they won and took Ackley?

  • Bayview Herb

    Now if the Mariners could only play defense.

  • Guy K. Browne

    Ruh Roh… 2 national press articles about the Mariners in 2 days, surely the jinx is on.

  • Katherine Ransel

    You did nothing but trash what management was doing to the team during the off season. I hope that gives you some pause in the future before you do your pundit thing.