BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 07/24/2020

Thiel: High drama, low expectations for Mariners

It’s year two of extended spring training for the Mariners, who have only 60 developmental games, yet have to manage two national scourges while doing it. Fun.

C Austin Nola will start in place of injured Tom Murphy Friday in Houston. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

Much has been said about the pending weirdness of a Major League Baseball season missing 102 games and devoid of spectators, yet filled with nearly as many hygiene rules as a hospital surgery unit.

All true. But in the before days (pre-pandemic), does anyone remember 2019?

The Seattle Mariners started 13-2 and finished in a sub-basement of last place. The Washington Nationals started 19-31 and became a wild-card World Series champion by winning all five of their elimination games and all four road games in the Series.

That’s retire-the-trophy weirdness. So don’t get too breathless with the never-before-seen storylines.

Yes, empty Dodger Stadium Wednesday night looked strange on TV, with life-size photos of fans mounted on otherwise empty seats behind home plate. But their opening game with the San Francisco Giants looked familiar, except for all the masks, except for some who didn’t bother. Just like America.

As for the Mariners, they begin their season at 6:10 p.m. PT Friday in Houston, a place everyone hates to go right now, to play against the Astros, a team everyone loves to hate. Lots of hating for an Opening Day.

But it is baseball. Against all odds, it is baseball.

Speaking of odds, the Mariners are 250-1 to win the World Series, according to BetOnLine.ag. That’s not as bad as the Orioles and Pirates, both 300-1. But it is in line with standard expectations for a franchise that understands losing the way Homer Simpson understands beer (“Homer no function beer well without”).

It is year two of the step-back program of general manager Jerry Dipoto, a season dedicated to discovering whether the kids are all right. Since it is again essentially extended spring training with no expectations of team success, the pressure is lessened compared to teams that think they are built to win a 60-game sprint.

That doesn’t mean things aren’t already stacking up against the Mariners.

Based on 2019 records, the Mariners have the fifth-most difficult schedule, as well as the third-most travel miles, even with the regionalized schedule. The Mariners start with their most distant trip of the year. After four in Houston, they play three in Anaheim before returning July 31 for the home opener.

Bad health (non-covid-19 division) has crept in. Starting catcher Tom Murphy is out several weeks after a foul ball broke a metatarsal bone in his right foot. Perhaps their best relief pitcher, Austin Adams, is on the injured list recovering from ACL surgery. OF Mitch Haniger (back and testicle surgery) may be out for the season.

The team’s brightest prospect, OF Julio Rodriguez, 19, cracked a bone in his left wrist in summer camp. He wasn’t destined to play this season, but was giving indications that that club decision might have been harder than it seemed.

As a partial result of these developments, rookies will start in left field (Tim Lopes), right field (Kyle Lewis) and first base (Evan White). New starting catcher Austin Nola, 2B Shed Long, SS J.P. Crawford and DH Daniel Vogelbach are second-year players by service time. The veterans are 3B Kyle Seager (eight years) and CF Mallex Smith (three years).

Among starting pitchers, Marco Gonzales, 28, Taijuan Walker, 27, Yusei Kikuchi, 27 and Kendall Graveman, 29, are senior eminences. Justin Dunn, 24, and Justis Sheffield, 23, are rookies.

This young lineup desperately needs a full season of development. They have to make do with 60. Dipoto thinks it will work OK.

“If we were a team that had several players that were moving toward free agency or who were effectively starting to get deeper into their 30s, that would have been more concerning to us,” Dipoto told the Seattle Times. “We didn’t feel like it was going to be a lost season. And we did feel like our age, athleticism and general focus was going to allow us to do something positive here.”

Amid these typical baseball developments, all players and staff have to be virus-vigilant for the sake of all involved. If that weren’t enough added pressure, the racial cleft in U.S. culture grows as a presidential election draws near. President Trump has freshly castigated athletes who kneel during anthems. Which is exactly what all of the Yankees and Nationals did in their opener Wednesday. It’s on.

What does a manager do to keep any clubhouse tension to a minimum?

“I’m going certainly to allow everybody to express themselves in a way they feel comfortable, not imposing anything on anybody,” manager Scott Servais said. “There’s a movement going on this country and there is need for change. So we’ve talked about it quite a bit with our group.

“If we don’t do it now, when is it going to get done? We have a lot of really strong-willed young people (in the country). A lot of them are ballplayers.”

The times are as intense as they are perilous. But somehow baseball is trying to work in 60 games, and maybe a postseason. Best of luck. Weirdness is about to turn pro.

 

 


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YourThoughts

  • wabubba67

    Love the Hunter S. Thompson reference at the end. What’s the over/under on Astros hit by pitch tonight (2.5 sounds about right)? How many games in to the season before the Astros get tired of seving their penance and begin to retaliate? How do you fight in the era of COVID?

    Btw, Joe Nash should be the next inductee in the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor. An UDFA who played 15 years (all in Seattle and occasionally at a Pro Bowl level). If longevity worked against Easley and the HoF, it should work for Nash in the Ring of Honor. Will you start the campaign, Art? (Before the Ring becomes rightfully crowded by recency bias….Chancellor, Thomas, Lynch, Bennett, et al.)

    Joe needs you, Art.

    • art thiel

      I don’t think Servais will play retaliation games. He doesn’t see it as his fight.

      Where did the Joe Nash campaign come from? Did he just save a family from a burning building?

      • wabubba67

        I was just trying to come up with older, deserving Seahawks for the Ring of Honor during this relatively quiet period of induction before the inevitable crush of players that will occur shortly after the Super Bowl victory era (you can add Baldwin, Sherman, Wagner, Wright to my list too). Joe seems deserving based on longevity, performance, and ability to cope with team futility during most of his tenure. Never a star (despite a Pro Bowl or two), he put in 15 years of mostly unrecognized admirable work in the trenches and was never a problem in the community.

        Any chance that you can lead the charge from the media and ask someone with power in the Seahawks’ organization?

  • coug73

    I like your writing style, Art. Call it Gonzo Lite. Keep up the entertaining journalism.

    • art thiel

      I bow in Pullman’s direction.

      • Husky73

        Gas up in Dusty.

        • coug73

          Schooner of beer, stare, smile, and swagger out the door. Flip or fly it hung them up.

  • SeattleSince57

    Hope Kyle Seager can get off to a fast start,
    trade deadline moved to Aug 31st , I believe

    • Husky73

      Homer and error…..

    • art thiel

      No market for his huge contract in a weak business year.

      • SeattleSince57

        More teams in the playoff hunt this year.
        More trade opportunities.
        Oh yeah, we still pay his salary, let Dipoto work his prospect magic.

        • Husky73

          “We” don’t pay his salary. Stanton does.

  • Husky73

    This is a major league baseball team whose catcher is an infielder. Would that EVER happen to the Cardinals?

    • 2nd place is 1st loser

      It’s all good, remember Dipoto stated that the M’s will compete for the WS in 2021. This half assed season is going to give Dipoto a mulligan on that prediction. As far as the catching situation is concerned, no, the Cardinals or any other franchise worth their salt would not allow such a thing to occur. But this is Mariner baseball we’re talking about. Nothing this Mickey Mouse franchise does should come as a shock to anyone.

      • Husky73

        The infielder had a passed ball, the bullpen was terrible and the rookies were over matched. 59 to go.

        • 2nd place is 1st loser

          Well I guess with Nola letting that ball/puck get through the five hole, he’s probably not going to get a look from the Kraken for goalie.

          • art thiel

            +1

        • art thiel

          An MLB record for fastest write-off. Congrats.

          • Husky73

            I was quicker on Beto O’Rourke.

      • art thiel

        I don’t think Dipoto said WS. He said they could be competitive, which can be .500. As far as roster-fillers, all teams look for experienced bounce-back guys. If you want to criticize seriously, take at a look at how top picks progress. Start with J.P. Crawford.

        • 2nd place is 1st loser

          You may be correct in what JD said regarding the M’s being competitive in 2021, but I can vaguely remember him saying something like, we should be able to compete for the WS by 2021. Either way it’s water under the bridge. But I almost fell off my chair when you said competitive could be 500. My oh my I guess one could consider 500 to be competitive considering how the franchise has staggered around in mediocrity for close to two decades. Baby steps.
          As far as fillers go, wouldn’t you think that a good filler would have been a catcher considering Nola as much as he’s trying, he’s not an everyday catcher, or for that matter a catcher at all. It’s mind numbing.

    • art thiel

      Some would call it incisive player development.

  • Alan Harrison

    So if my math is even remotely correct, an equivalent season to last year would be roughly 25-35. Is this a 26 win club? Let’s go Mariners! (waits for rhythmic clap…fails to hear any…sigh) I hope the good fortune of low virus positives so far is not like the 13-2 start last year, when the decrepit visage of reality ripped off the mask of hope, surprise, and cockle-based warmth.

    • art thiel

      Whoa. Someone’s out to impress his high school English teacher.