The Chicago Cubs are 2-6. The Boston Red Sox are 3-8. Surprising? Yes. But the most shocking? No.
Both those teams failed to make additions to get better while losing relatively key pieces. There was potential for regression there, and it seems to have been made paramount early.
The Seattle Mariners, on the other hand, went one step further. They didn’t just fail to add, they decimated their team over the summer. James Paxton? Dealt to the evil empire. Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano? Shipped off to Queens. Edwin Encarnacion? Traded to Cleveland. Jean Segura? He’s a Phillie.
However, the Mariners just can’t stop winning. They spoiled Oakland’s trip to Japan. They took three of four from the defending World Series champs. They swept Mike Trout and the rest of the Angels’ AAA lineup. They took two of three from the White Sox.
— ROOT SPORTS™ | NW (@ROOTSPORTS_NW) April 2, 2019
The Seattle Mariners, the one team that decimated their roster at a scale only challenged by the 2018 Miami Marlins, are 10-2. They have the best record in baseball at this time. Against all odds, it appears that Jerry Dipoto’s squad may not actually lose 100 games like we all thought they would.
That being said, it is still way too early to call the Mariners a potential contender. Sure, starting better than the record-setting 2001 team is great. But it would take a special kind of naivety, or apparently a membership to either Cubs or Red Sox twitter, to draw overarching conclusions off of 12 games. Even the front office isn’t yet convinced, with Ken Rosenthal writing yesterday that no one should “look for them to shift course accelerate their rebuilding program.”
“At 9-2, the Mariners are off to the best 11-game start in club history, but don’t look for them to shift course and accelerate their rebuilding program. The team still intends to build a sustainable contender that can compete with the Astros over the long haul.” – Ken Rosenthal (via the athletic)
In short, can you count on Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce, and Tim Beckham to lead a team to the playoffs, or even close to it? Not really. That’s the beauty of small sample sizes.
Tim Beckham has, at least through 12 games this season, been one of the best players in baseball. However, unless Armageddon hits tomorrow, that isn’t going to stand. If Tim Beckham finishes the season with a 270 wRC+, I will buy every person who shares this article on social media a Maserati. It isn’t going to happen.
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Beckham isn’t the only one vastly outperforming his expectations, however. Ryon Healy has been on a hot stretch to start the year, and Domingo Santana is suddenly tearing the cover off the ball. Daniel Vogelbach also has a 1.471 OPS at this point in the season.
However, and this can’t be stressed enough, it has been 11 games. And in Vogelbach’s case, it has been six games. Outside of a week stretch in his first week in Baltimore back in 2017, Tim Beckham hasn’t been even close to this good at any point of his career. His .429 BABIP makes this season completely unsustainable for him.
Likewise, Vogelbach also has a .429, and Domingo Santana has a .406. Everything points to this being an uncharacteristically lucky start for at least those three guys. They won’t keep it up. And thusly, to answer the overarching question about the Mariners, I do not believe the Mariners are for real at this point. However, there is one player I have seen from the Mariners this season that is for real.
Ryon Healy’s BABIP is .270, the lowest in his career with an exception of last year. Sure, his OPS is *only* .940, and his wRC+ is *only* 162. However, there isn’t anything apparent to show that Healy is getting incredibly lucky or uncharacteristically hot. Instead, the evidence actually points the opposite direction.
Ryon Healy DEMOLISHED this pitch for his first HR of the year! pic.twitter.com/ZkxJnXsnWb
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) March 21, 2019
Ryon Healy has gotten uncharacteristically unlucky so far during this hot start for Seattle. He is making more hard contact than ever before, as well as hitting the balls to all fields at a level he has never done before. Despite this, his BABIP has fallen by 50 points compared his lowest in Oakland.
It’s unfair to not expect a tiny bit of regression in his K% and BB% numbers, both of which are way better than last year’s, but I’m not going to expect a massive falloff in Healy’s play compared to the other guys.
Between Healy, Mitch Haniger (who hasn’t been incredible to start the season), Edwin Encarnacion, and Jay Bruce, the Mariners lineup has plenty of power to go around. They can afford a drop off from guys like Beckham and still be fine.
The issue resides in their pitching, however. Only the Cubs, Red Sox, Rockies, A’s, and Diamondbacks have allowed more runs this season than the Mariners, who allowed 17 runs to the lowly White Sox in their previous three-game series.
Sure, their lineup is going to be good. We all underestimated them and overestimated their demise. However, it isn’t going to be able to consistently bail out that pathetic pitching staff, and that’s what would be necessary if the Mariners were to actually “be for real.”