When you’re going on a long journey, it is always wise to be as prepared as possible. The more unknown variables you face, the more chances there are to go wrong. This is perhaps why, facing a 162 game season, baseball fans get so anxious about the off-season.
The Seattle Mariners fandom was certainly anxious about this last off-season, and mostly rightfully so. Perhaps it’s because of that anxiety that we view the first month of play with so much scrutiny, even though it’s only the first small step of a much larger journey. It is indeed a very long journey, but there is nothing better than starting your journey off right.
Coming off a series win against the division favorite Houston Astros, the M’s had a chance to do just that with their first outing against another division rival, the Texas Rangers. The spent-more-money-than-any-other-team-in-MLB-this-last-off-season Texas Rangers, who spent more than 260 million more than the next closest team. Clearly, the Texas Rangers believe in the value of preparing for a journey. It is important.
It would be unfair to say that the Mariners came unprepared, however, and whatever your feelings about their off-season, the moves they made are already paying dividends, and they came prepared to let the AL West that they are ready to win. Like Eugenio Suárez let Jon Gray know in the first inning with this three-run blast straight out to center field:
A sweet revenge for Gray plunking the ever magnetic Ty France just two batters before, bringing his total for the year up to three already. It should also be noted that Suárez is absolutely passing the eye test for defense at 3B this year so far, erasing another nagging doubt some had. I can’t say if that can be contributed to his work with Perry Hill, a return to his natural position, a new environment, or some beautiful collaboration of all of that, but it’s a wonderful sight to see.
Not wanting to be outdone, and still holding a grudge against foul poles for reasons that may never be known, Kelenic went yard against the right field pole in the second, bringing the Mariners up to an early 4-0 lead.
The next couple of runs were scored by none other than E. White, both hit in by Marcus Semien. Seattle has been wanting to see productive offense from an E. White for some time, but not this one, as this was Eli White, and not Evan. Robbie Ray, though, went on to finish the game with a final line of 6.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, and 4 SO. He started the game with his velocity sitting around 93-94 but was much closer to 90-91 by the time he was done. Luckily, he did well enough with his command, perfectly dotting the corners in three out of four of his strikeouts and getting Andy Ibáñez to chase a nasty slider inside.
The Rangers went on to score no more runs against Seattle’s bullpen, who continue to be dominant. Steckenrider only gave up the one hit after replacing Ray in the 7th, Sewald had a 1-2-3 8th, and Castillo closed the door giving up 1 hit and racking up one K. The offense weren’t going to let the pitching have all the fun, though. The Mariners, who spent 26.4% of what Texas did in the off-season, ultimately scored 300% of the runs they did in this game. There is value in being prepared, but you must be prepared in the right way. So, not like this:
That was a soft hit to left field by Crawford, and a misplay by Adolis García allowed J.P. to turn what should have been an easy out into a triple. It admittedly didn’t amount to a run, but was still a great metaphor for the whole situation: the Mariners only outhit the Rangers 7 to 6, but outscored them 6-2. You must be efficient not only in your preparation, but also in your execution. This proves true for everyone, no matter the skill or experience level.
Enter Julio Rodríguez, who may lack the experience but holds the wisdom. Rodríguez finished the night 1-3 with 2 SB, 1 BB, and 1 SO. The strikeout came in the first inning on four pitches, chasing a slider well outside of the zone. One strikeout does not a player make, though, and Rodríguez would not be fooled again, impressively turning around an 0-2 count in the eighth into a walk, narrated by the crowd chanting “Let’s Go Julio”, which he then turned into his second stolen base of the game. It also meant he was on base with Abraham Toro redeemed what was an otherwise worrisome and head-scratching outing at DH with this punctuation mark of a two run homer.
Yes, it is important to be prepared, and yes, the journey is long. There are still question marks, areas of improvement, and as always, plain bad luck looming in the future. Sometimes, though, that preparation isn’t physical. No matter how many tools you bring with you, no matter how elaborate the plan, you need to have the know-how. The intangibles do matter in terms of preparation. You have to be mentally prepared. That is inarguably easier if you go into things with the right mindset. For baseball, in my opinion, that mindset is a willingness to not only grind, but to have fun. That’s the value of this early season win, the Mariners are clearly prepared for a long, fun campaign, that only promises to be a lot less fun for the rest of the American League West.