Cheney Free Press -

By JOHN McCALLUM
Managing Editor 

Knock on wood - hope for fall ball springs up in Seattle

Crunch Time

 


At the risk of invoking kibosh, I’m feeling pretty good about the Seattle Mariners right now.

Yes, it’s mid-June. By the time you read this, summer will have been at least 24 hours old. Not exactly the time to start counting my change with the hopes of purchasing Safeco Field playoff tickets in October, but at least good enough to start thinking about it.

The M’s are 46-26, 20 games over .500 — something they haven’t been this late (?!) in the season since the last time they made the playoffs in 2001. They’re two games out of first place in the American League West behind a very hot Houston team, the defending world champions.

With a .639 winning percentage, Seattle is two and a half games behind Boston — who the M’s just took two out of three games from in a weekend series — for the first wildcard slot. Even more promising, Seattle is eight and a half games ahead of the next wildcard challenger, the Los Angeles Angels, and headed in the right direction as winners of seven of their last 10 games.

The Angels, on the other hand, are 3-7 over their last 10.

I know I shouldn’t get too far ahead of the game with my hopes for Seattle ending the longest playoff appearance drought of any major sports franchise, 17 years. I was living in Seattle in 1995 when the then Lou Piniella-led Mariners were 13 games out of first place in the beginning of August.

We know how that turned out, and I still have many exciting memories of the rally, the one-game playoff with L.A. and the Yankees and Cleveland series’.

But watching the 2018 M’s, I’ve got good vibes. They have experience, youth and the appearance they’re having fun on the diamond, not just going about collecting paycheck.

Seattle is third in hitting in the AL, behind Boston and Houston, fifth in pitching and sixth in fielding. They’re doing a lot of this without their superstar, Robinson Cano, who is out with an injury and then a drug-use suspension.

In his absence, other players have stepped in to provide some star-power-type offensive and defensive punch. Dee Gordon, an off-season acquisition from the Marlins, has shown his versatility in moving from center field to replace Cano at second.

Shortstop Jean Segura and right fielder Mitch Haniger are showing general manager Jerry Dipoto’s wisdom in trading pitcher Tajuan Walker to Arizona before the 2017 season. While both players battle injury at times last year, they’ve been healthy and not only been sharp in the field, but potent at the plate.

Throw in Guillermo Heredia, Ben Gamel and off-season acquisition from Oakland Ryon Healy at first base, and things are looking good for the future. And of course, don’t forget veterans Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager and Mike Zunino — although at age 27, Zunino is part of the youth movement.

Cruz is a power at designated hitter, and while Seager and Zunino are struggling with the bat, their defense makes up for the current shortfalls. Add recent trade product Denard Span, and Seattle’s got offense.

Finally, throw in (sorry) a pitching rotation of James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Mike Leake and Gonzaga-product Marco Gonzalez, 26-14 combined record with one no-hitter (the Big Maple, Paxton), and there are plenty of good vibes for baseball in cold weather to be had.

Yeah, I know. It’s June, and these are the Seattle Mariners. History tells a tale not of success, but of frustration and what-ifs.

After all, the M’s have brought post-season baseball to Seattle just four times: 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2001.

But baseball is about hope and faith, if it’s about anything at all. Faith that the front office knows what it’s doing and the players assembled can continue to not just perform and contribute, but also overcome any bumps in the road.

And hope that come October, we’ll have Seattle baseball to compliment Eastern Washington football.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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