Every season of every sport starts with boundless optimism for every team. The Astros have lost hundreds and hundreds of games the last few years, but now they’re 2-0, and who knows, right? The Yankees are 0-2 and missed the playoffs last year, but they’re still waiting on first starts from Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda and who knows, maybe they’re in for a big rebound year. The Seahawks sure looked good at the start of last season, and look where that took them. I’m sure that on the first day of NBA basketball there were a lot of excited Philadelphia 76ers fans who insisted that their team had all the world’s potential. What we’re feeling now isn’t new or unique, and especially isn’t indicative of anything. But today’s situation is different. Today, the fires of fandom are being stoked, by the Seattle Mariners, of all teams.
The Seattle Mariners are 3-0. They’ve scored the most runs in baseball, by a lot, and have the best run differential in baseball, by a lot. They’re in first place, and just about every player who has played for them has looked awesome. Except Hector Noesi, of course, but of course. There are 159 games left to go in the baseball season, and who knows, really, how any of this turns out, but right now in Seattle there is a palpable buzz about baseball. The city that just watched the Seahawks pull off the unthinkable has now been treated to three consecutive dominant victories to open the baseball season. Anything is possible. A sub-.500 season is still very, very possible, but it’s also a good deal less statistically likely than it was on Monday morning. The Mariners are making us feel good, and there’s a real reason why. They’re winning. They’re winning huge.
There’s a difference between any old 3-0 start and this 3-0 start. For one, there’s the opponent. The Angels haven’t made the playoffs since 2009 (!!!), but are still considered a good team with a realistic shot at winning the division this season. For two, there’s the runs: 26 scored, 8 allowed. It’s hard to luck your way into 26 runs in a series against a competent, non-Houston opponent, but the Mariners just did that. And for three, the Mariners were able to do this by getting big contributions from the whole roster. Logan Morrison looked bad swinging the bat, but he took his walks. Brad Miller hit two dingers. Robinson Cano‘s been on base more often than not, and Justin Smoak is doing a Chris Davis impression. Stefen Romero hit! Corey Hart! Abraham Almonte‘s been playing good defense and finding his way to first base! Dustin Ackley! Felix Hernandez! Everyone! There’s a 3-0 start where the team wins three games, and there’s this 3-0 start where the team dominates at every facet of the game.
Game three’s big star was James Paxton. Well, it was Paxton, and Smoak, and Mike Zunino, but let’s talk Paxton for a minute. James Paxton is not a shoo-in to become a star. Nobody is, no matter their prospect shine, but people have made a habit of looking at Paxton and saying “reliever.” Paxton is a young lefty who throws really hard and tonight he struck out nine Angels over seven shutout innings. He allowed two hits and walked two. You know how the Mariners farm system hasn’t developed an ace pitcher since Felix Hernandez? We always talk about Taijuan Walker as the next big dog, but Paxton too was a top prospect, and Paxton too has a fairly amazing ceiling. Don’t write him off, don’t undersell him. Don’t expect him to become sustainably great – don’t expect that of anyone – but don’t forget, Paxton could be incredible. Tonight he made his season debut, and tonight he was incredible. That could keep happening.
Mike Zunino provided offensive heroics with a big three-run homer off of Fernando Salas, who had only just relieved a struggling Hector Santiago. Salas and Santiago were key imports for Anaheim this offseason, and both of them have started out their seasons on the wrong foot. So has their number two starter and their new *star* third baseman. Albert Pujols hasn’t looked too hot. But is it the Angels being bad, or the Mariners being good? The beauty of this being game three is that we don’t even have to look for answers since we know better – there’s no point in looking for what we know we can’t and won’t find. Three games won’t tell you anything predictive. All this series tells us is that the Mariners just anihilated a supposedly better team, opening their season in just about the best way possible.
Aside from Zunino, Justin Smoak and Corey Hart added homers late in the game. Back to back homers, actually! Smoak is obviously on fire the last few days, and boy is that ever fun to watch. Hart has looked nice and it’s cool that he hasn’t had to play defense yet. Lloyd McClendon is doing a good job of optimizing his lineups so far, with one obvious quibble being the selection of Willie Bloomquist over Kyle Seager at third. Seager hasn’t looked great, especially compared to the rest of the team, but to be benched after two games? Seager’s been the best player on this team for a couple years, and Cano’s arrival shouldn’t lead us to perceive him as being anything less than the stud he’s always been. He’ll almost surely be back on the field tomorrow, but still, weird to see Willie so early, and at third of all places.
There’s more baseball tomorrow. The M’s travel to Oakland to face Jesse Chavez, a reliever who I guess starts now, though whether that’s a short or long-term thing remains to be seen. Roenis Elias makes his MLB debut, and while the last few days have everyone feeling all giddy, this seems a good time to issue a reminder that the M’s will eventually lose a game. Elias isn’t likely to be awesome out of the gate, but then again neither was Justin Smoak. Nobody expected James Paxton to fan nine guys in his first outing of the season. Nobody expected any of the things that just happened to happen, but they happened, and now the Mariners are radiating positive energy like thay haven’t in years. This is extremely fun. Elias vs. Chavez, tomorrow at 7:05pm. Prepare to have fun! This is going to be fun! Baseball!!!!!