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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

March 29, 2012 at 11:41 AM

Regarding Mariners’ offense, repeat after me: “It’s still early. It’s still early. It’s still…”

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“I’m sticking my neck out a little bit, and I don’t mind doing it — I feel this should be the year we really take a significant step forward offensively. I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t.”Eric Wedge at Mariners preseason luncheon in January.

“We’re going to be a very good offensive club this year. We’ve had some down years, but we have a lot of talent in our lineup. Right now, we’re just scratching the surface, but as we settle in, you’re going to see that these young men are going to be a very good offensive ballclub.Eric Wedge after the Mariners’ season-opening 3-1 victory over Oakland on Wednesday.

.174/.186/.275 — Mariners team batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage after two games.

*******

I could be misreading this, but of all the hopes and dreams that Mariners fans have for this season, one is paramount: Please, please, please give us an offense that isn’t an embarrassment, and doesn’t put us to sleep on a near nightly basis.

Of all the depressing aspects of the past few years for the Mariners, nothing has been harder to watch than the flailing Mariners “attack”. The fact that the word must be put in quotation marks tells you all you need to know. No need to reprise the ugly numbers that rank with the worst of the post-DH era.

But manager Eric Wedge, as shown above, has promised that those days are over. He preached it all spring, with conviction and passion. And with good reason, I felt (and still feel). Looking at young, developing players like Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak, I certainly saw (and see) hitters that could make an impact.

As I wrote on the day before spring training, “I see a team that should hit better than it did last year, which isn’t really going out on a limb. But the Mariners could actually have a league average offense — which in comparison to the last two years would be like importing the 1927 Yankees.”

After two games, mission unaccomplished. In two games against Oakland, the Mariners rolled out an offense that, well, put you to sleep. Of course, the fact that the games began locally at 3 a.m. and 2 a.m. might have had something to do with it. But not everything. In 20 innings, they scored four runs, in a ballpark known to favor hitters, against pitchers that aren’t quite Justin Verlander.

If ever a team needed a fast start at the plate to cement Wedge’s culture change, and to gain confidence that things are going to be different, this was it. But other than a few isolated moments — four hits in the opener for Ichiro (two of them infield jobs), a homer and clutch single for Ackley, a double by Brendan Ryan that started the winning rally, and an opposite-field homer for Justin Smoak in the second game (one of their three hits in the game), the clock might as well have been turned back to 2011, or 2010.

The averages are already depressing: Montero .143. Michael Saunders .167. Miguel Olivo .143. Ryan .143. Chone Figgins .125. Smoak .111. Mike Carp is on the disabled list.

I’m here today to remind you that in the context of a 162-game season, two games mean nothing. It’s not a small sample size, it’s a tiny sample size, barely one percent of the season. One 3-for-4 night, and that .143 magically becomes a .364.

Wedge’s job now is to keep his players from pressing already. Mike Blowers talked on the broadcast about how oppressive it can be to start off a season slowly, and have to look at your meager average on the scoreboard every at-bat. The pressure can build quickly, he said — and that’s an even bigger danger for a team with the Mariners’ recent struggles. And to make matters worse, the Mariners have the unique situation of having to marinate in their numbers for a full week-plus before resuming the season.

But I still think this team is going to hit better this year. Two games in Japan isn’t going to change that assessment.

(Justin Smoak’s home run, shown here, was the lone offensive bright spot for the Mariners’ in their 4-1 loss to the A’s. Photo by Getty Images).

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