A new season brings renewed energy, and so I bring you some impressions I got on Game 1 of 162.
I love the pageantry of Opening Day. It’s the one day a year where fans get to recognize head trainer Rick Griffin and the other guys who make up the clubhouse staff. We get some nice video features, some player awards, and other festivities. Then they bring out a kid from Make-A-Wish to run the bases and they play the clip of Dave Niehaus saying “Welcome back, baseball,” and honestly I get choked up a little bit just writing the sentence without hearing the sounds or seeing the sights.
If you ever want to look like you know baseball, bring a friend to an Opening Day Mariners game. Felix shows up to work, and you know there’s going to be a point where he’s going to get super-efficient – he threw an 11-pitch second inning, 10-pitch third and seventh innings, and 13-pitch fifth and sixth innings – while mixing in 10 K’s. You could set your watch to that guy.
The promise of the Mariners this year is that they’re going to have a good middle of the order with Cano, Cruz, and Seager. Well, they went a combined 1-for-12 today and the M’s still won 4-1. Color me hopeful about this one. At some point, those guys are going to have to carry the team, but the more wins this club can steal without getting much help from that group the more likely we’ll be seeing baseball in Seattle after October 4.
I’m also encouraged to see Lloyd McClendon swapping Seth Smith for Justin Ruggiano in the seventh. While a few people behind me at the game were puzzled – why would you pinch hit for the guy who has gone 3-for-3 with two doubles and a triple? – I think it speaks to the commitment the M’s will have this year to keeping the platoon advantage. Ruggiano got himself ahead 2-0 against Angels’ lefty reliever Cesar Ramos before the count evened on a foul and a swing and a miss, but Ruggiano took balls three and four to get aboard.
Dustin Ackley’s fifth-inning home run just kept rising. Off the bat it looked like a pop-up to me, and it took a couple seconds of hang-time before I realized it was long gone. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself as Ackley hit the first home run of the season in Japan a couple years back, but if Ackley can continue to be a decent bat, the lower half of the M’s batting order looks pretty strong. In fact, it reminds me of the recent Oakland model of building a good lineup where you have a lot of decent bats but perhaps few world-beaters.
Oakland had 12 batters at the end of the season with a wRC+ between 90 and 130 (If you’re not familiar, 100 is a roughly average offensive player, guys around 130 include Kyle Seager, Josh Donaldson, Matt Holliday, and Justin Upton). Granted, only nine of the 12 had more than 100 PA’s, but the Mariners only had six players in that zone last season, period. While Cano beat the mark, the M’s who fell in the range included Seager, Michael Saunders, Logan Morrison, Chris Taylor, Endy Chavez, Ackley, and Brad Miller. Only Miller, Ackley, Seager, and Cano had more than 400 PA’s.
It is kind of interesting how watching Jered Weaver changed over the course of the game, too. He had a 19-pitch first inning leaving a lot of pitches up and out of the zone and I had figured that the Angels would need a lot more than one run if they wanted to come away with a victory this afternoon, then he sat down the M’s half of the second on six pitches and looked like the second incarnation of Jamie Moyer. Perhaps that was more telling of the M’s 5-6-7 hitters today (who went a collective 1-for-11 with a single, a double play, and a robbed home run) than it was of Weaver, but if the season comes down to the Angels and Mariners, Weaver could own a darn relevant storyline.