Once again, this up-and-down Mariners season is back on a bit of an upswing. But rather than continue getting too high or two low with each flurry of wins and losses, we’ll try to look at the bigger picture.
Let’s face it, no team in MLB ever expects to sweep any other squad, but these Twins were ripe for the plucking. They looked demoralized today after three first-inning runs by Seattle and another in the second on that Mike Carp home run.
It begs the question of how the Mariners managed to lose Friday’s opener against a team that has mustered only 14 hits in its last five games. Prior to the first of two homers today b Ryan Doumit, the Twins had scored in just one inning out of their last 42.
And unfortunately for the Mariners, that one inning was the seventh on Friday when Seattle handed them three runs on an error, two walks and two ground balls. Unfortunately again for the Mariners, they didn’t jump all over opportunities when they had the chance and were nursing only a 2-0 lead at that point.
In the middle game, it was still scoreless with two out in the sixth before Kyle Seager came through big-time with a two-run single.
But today’s 5-2 win was a little different. Today, the Mariners jumped all over the Twins when they had the chance the first two innings. Today, they buried a psychologically weakened opponent before the Twins could ever really get their feet under them. At 4-0 after two innings, it might as well have been 40-0. You knew the Twins weren’t coming back.
The M’s had done that in Detroit, jumping on the Tigers early in all three games. They blew an early 4-0 lead in the finale of that Comerica Park series, but the point is, they didn’t trail. And they had the Tigers off balance from the get-go.
Seattle will have to start doing more of that if they ultimately hope to win more than they lose.
“I don’t think we still know how to win yet,” Brendan Ryan said. “And that kind of falls on some of the veteran guys in this clubhouse — on their shoulders. It’s our job to kind of keep us going in the right direction.
“Off a tough series in Tampa, just to say ‘Hey, we’re competitive, we’re in these ballgames. It’s just one at-bat, or a defensive lapse. It’s that one inning on defense or not having that five-run inning when it’s there for us.”
Today, the Mariners took the three-run first inning that was there for them. And it was huge, as I just noted. The Twins are not the type of team that can rally from a huge early deficit. Today, they played like the kind of team that gives up after an early shot to the solar plexus.
This wasn’t so much about Hector Noesi dominating the Twins. Sure, he allowed just four hits over seven innings, but we really can’t tell what type of pitcher Noesi is going to be based off of this outing.
The Twins were hacking away and actually looked disinterested. At one point in the final inning, their runner had second base stolen via indifference and was practically standing on the bag when the hitter hacked away lazily at a 1-0 pitch out of the zone and fouled it off.
I mean, that’s just awful and typical of the kind of baseball the Twins are playing. They aren’t my problem or your problem beyond this series and are in for a long, long season based on what we saw this weekend.
But the story today wasn’t Noesi. It was some of the younger Mariners hitters coming through in key situations when it really mattered.
Kyle Seager has driven home 10 runs his past five games. He had the big hit yesterday and wound up delivering the game’s decisive run today in the very first inning.
Jesus Montero also delivered a big-time double today after Ichiro very nearly grounded into a double play. Instead, the Twins bobbled the ball, got only one out and Montero and the M’s ook advantage for a 2-0 lead.
That’s what good teams do. That’s what good teams have done to the Mariners a whole lot the past few years. That’s what a bad Twins team did to the Mariners in the seventh inning on Friday night.
You have to grab the moment when it comes to you, because you don’t know when it will happen again. It’s all about learning how to win.
“It’s always nice to jump out early, take advantage of opportunities and get out in front like that,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “We had a couple of guys step up for us with those RBI opportunities and that’s a good sign.
“I feel like we’ve got a couple of guys offensively heading in the right direction. Some a little bit quicker than others, but baby steps with that. They’re definitely a little more comfortable with runners in scoring position and that’s the biggest part of it – controlling your heartbeat and being comfortable and confident in those situations.”
We’ve talked on this blog before about Seager and how he needs to show more consistency. He’s starting to do that more and more.
There was that two-week drought he experienced prior to the last road trip. But he’s got hits in eight of his last nine games to get his on-base percentage up from .279 to .320. When Seager has an OBP below .300, you can’t talk about him being a regular player or a mid-order fixture.
Now that it’s back over .300, you can start to have that conversation. This team can’t have any more regulars with sub-.300 OBPs. Seager has to stay above that Mendoza line for OBP and build on it.
Right now, his slash line is .298/.320/.511. With an .831 OPS, he can be my third baseman of the future any day. The trick will be to maintain that consistency. He doesn’t have to slug .500. But he needs that OBP well above .300.
“He was one of those nine guys we really challenged to do some things in off-season to do something different,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said pre-game. “And I could tell early on in spring training, the way the ball was coming off his bat was just different than last year. And he’s brought it into the season.
“You know how I feel about players being in-between (in their swings),” Wedge said. “It pisses me off and I don’t like it at all. He’s not afraid to swing and miss. He’s not afraid to take some chances. He can turn around a good fastball, he puts up a tough AB, sticks his nose in there. There’s a lot to like there.”
Wedge specifically wanted Seager to get his core stronger and make his body more flexible. He wanted Seager to become more explosive as well.
After the game, Wedge said Seager is “night and day” better at third base than he was last year. He likes the difference at the plate as well, compared to the inconsistent Seager who played the final few months with the Mariners last season.
“He’s very consistent, he’s always been a consistent hitter regardless of what level he’s been at,” Wedge said. “I think he’s developing a great deal of confidence. He likes to be up there in RBI situations. It’s a very good approach. A very professional approach he has to hitting. That’s where you want to get all your guys.
“He fell out of it a little bit, but then he’s gotten right back to it and fixed it quickly,” Wedge said. “Those are all positives.”
There were plenty of positives coming out of this game and the final two days of this series. Now comes a tougher opponent in the Tigers with a much better pitching lineup than the Mariners faced in Detroit two weeks ago. We’ll see whether the positives can continue to flow from here and whether the Mariners have learned to win games more consistently.