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Bestest Possible Start

How 'bout them Mariners?! Emphatic 10-3 and 8-3 victories against the Angels, on the road, to begin the season? No room for complaining whatsoever.

The hard part of such a glorious start is gleaning proper meaning and perspective. I find it difficult to go anywhere besides two polar extremes, which are...

  • Finally, it's all come together. This is going to be the season Mariners fans have longed for since 2001!
  • Whatever, it's only 2 games out of 162. The nice start means nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Here's my best attempt to sort out what two spectacular games might mean for the M's fortunes going forward.

Even if the two games are total flukes, they are very helpful flukes

The Mariners open the season with 20 games against AL West opponents. That makes these games more important because these are the teams the Mariners directly compete against for a playoff berth. So, the Mariners haven't just won a pair of games; the Angels have also lost a pair of games, and that matters.

Most everyone believed the Mariners were a worse team than the Angels at the start of the season. How much worse is up to interpretation. Baseball Prospectus has them seven wins apart. Beyond the Boxscore had them at a four-win gap. Whatever the true gap in talent actually is, the reality is that the Angels must be two wins better than the Mariners the rest of the way to beat them. That's now a fact. So, already beating the Angels twice has cut into the projected gap between the Mariners and Angels anywhere from about 25-50%. Even if the M's two victories are total flukes, the results are set in stone.

The Angels are considered a contending team, by the way.

Maybe the Angels are bad

Sometimes teams crumble out of nowhere. The Mariners have done that a few times in the past decade. The Blue Jays experienced a cliff dive last season. Both of these first two games were close until the Angels bullpen came in, so it's possible that we are witnessing a bad bullpen more than an emerging offense. The Angels had a questionable bullpen last year and didn't do a whole bunch to improve it in the offseason.

The early offensive explosion is legitimately promising

The Mariners, through two games, are averaging 9 runs a game. Obviously no team can keep up that pace, so there's no doubt that the hitting will cool off to some degree. The question is how much.

The Mariners have had some timely hits (9 runs a game demands timely hits) particularly with 2 outs. Stringing hits together is critical and hard to quantify. It's handled as good luck and/or good fortune to some degree in any theoretical projection or metric gauging a batter's value. The timely hitting won't stay as timely as it's been. In the ebb and flow of baseball there's little doubt this is more of a high point in how the Mariners can look.

However, it's also worth noting that the Mariners are stinging the ball as a team. Yes, the hits have been timely, but the types of hits are worth being excited about. A three-run home run from Smoak on opening night, fallowed by a bases-clearing triple by Dustin Ackley in that same, glorious ninth inning that put away the opener. Then, last night, Brad Miller's second home run was timely, as was a double from Justin Smoak earlier in the game.

What made all these hits timely is that there were so many runners on base to drive in. However, the hits themselves weren't lucky bounces. They were crushing drives. Again, some of the success might be a result of poor pitching, but extra base hits suggest some bona fide offensive skill that will carry throughout the year, especially given how well the team hit in spring training and the surprising number of home runs the Mariners hit last season. The evidence is mounting that the Mariners have a decent offense.*

*One bad stat: the M's have struck out quite a bit in this series too, and strikeouts were an issue last year. The power comes at a cost for this team. So far we've only seen extra base hits in crucial spots and it makes the offense look amazing. There will be quite a few strikeouts in critical spots moving forward and those will be frustrating. I still don't think the Mariners have a good offense, but decent would be a huge improvement from the historically anemic offerings in the not-too-distant past.

A hot start beats a cold start, and it makes it easier to believe that the Mariners might reach the upper end of their potential this season. However, it's worth noting that it's just as likely this series illuminates bad things about the Angels as it does good things about the Mariners. Solid answers won't come for a while, but each good day increases the odds ever so slightly that the Mariners are a good team while also putting pressure on the AL West to be better than the Mariners the rest of the way.