While the wave of fan fair washed over the MLB and all major sports outlets for Ichiro’s last professional game in Tokyo, Japan, an actual regular season series took place between the Mariners and the A’s. Oakland made the playoffs with a serged to close the 2018 season which knocked Seattle out of the wildcard spot they held for the majority of the year, effectively extending the Mariners postseason drought to 18 years. One would figure that Seattle would have been energized to stick it to their division rival after they snubbed the M’s, but the tone was surprisingly calm and collected throughout both games in the series and the Mariners were able to take home a sweep to open the season. We were able to see this newly constructed team for the first time since nearly half the roster was traded away and we were able to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of what they can do as a unit. Here are the top aspects of this team we learned about and can watch out for as the season gets underway.
Controlling the Zone
The Mariners coaching staff and players have been preaching about controlling the zone on both sides of the ball for most of the offseason. While a lot of teams are building around the long ball, Scott Servais wants the identity of this team to be grounded in controlling what they can on every pitch, the strike zone. While at the plate Seattle made pitchers throw them hittable balls by taking more pitches and fouling off the inbetweeners on the corners and when it was their turn to take the mound, the M’s pitchers attacked the zone and any movement up or down remained in the zone to keep the A’s on their heels. Over both games, the Oakland pitching staff through more balls, total pitches, and used more pitchers than the Mariners and while the difference in all of those categories is not massive, it shows that Seattle has a real plan behind this season and a blueprint to stick to for every game.
Middle Relief Issues
This Seattle bullpen was less than spectacular last season and enters 2019 as a clear weakness, but over their opening series, every earned run given up by the pen came from the middle reliever who came in right after the starter. Out of the eight relievers Seattle used, Roenis Elias and Nick Rumbelow accounted for five earned runs. Even Hunter Strickland, who is coming off of the worst year of his career, blowing a save nearly a third of the time, came out and dominated with three strikeouts and no earned runs with back to back saves. The Mariners may need to make some adjustments to their line up out there if the trend continues since they are embracing more innings going to relievers and less going to the starters, along with the rest of the league.
Less than Golden Oldies
The Mariners made two surprise acquisitions in Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion in the offseason, two guys with 24 seasons in the league between them joining a team that has entered full rebuild mode. The thought might have been to bring in a couple of productive vets to show the young guys how to do it the right way, but the opening series brings the productive part of the equation into question. Encarnacion was able to get on base four times with four walks, but he didn’t register a hit and struck out four times and you need to be able to put the ball in play from the cleanup spot in the lineup. Bruce was far less productive at the plate, with one hit on nine appearances and no walks, compound that with the fact that he is playing in the outfield where there is a plethora of young prospects that need to come up and develop and Bruce’s presence on the roster looks less and less advantageous. These two guys will be huge question marks throughout the year as we see if they blend with the culture shift the Mariners are going through and it will be interesting to see if either of them are still with the team past the trade deadline.
There were some exciting performances from new faces but there will be a carousel of young prospects making their Mariner debut throughout the year and we will have to see which guys stick, though it will be fun to see the young guys get their shot at the big leagues. The expectations are obviously lowered compared to last year, but the amount of talent still on this roster and coming up the chain from all their transactions this offseason is exciting to imagine. Keep an eye out for all these issues as the season gets underway on this side of the Pacific and onward.