These Mariners are a maddening work in progress
Manager Eric Wedge keeps saying his team is getting better. That improvement has yet to be seen consistently.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
Eric Wedge said this before Friday's home opener for his ballclub, sounding every bit like a proud papa: "They're turning into a good baseball team right before your eyes, and it's a lot of fun to see."
Now, Wedge has been preaching the gospel of the Mariners' impending maturation for weeks now. And they usually look much closer to being a polished, competitive team on nights when Felix Hernandez is on the mound — even when it's not King Felix at his regal best, as was the case Friday.
But the true impact of Wedge's statement lies in your interpretation of the word "turning" — and the speed at which you want to see the transformation accomplished. Or, to put it another way, your patience during the wait.
On a night when Mike Cameron's return couldn't help but bring memories flooding back of those long-ago days when the Mariners ruled the division, and baseball ruled Seattle, it sure looked like business as usual at Safeco Field in their 4-0 buzzkill of a loss to Oakland. And that's not a good thing.
If ever there was a night to showcase the new-look Mariners, it was Friday, with a sellout crowd just begging to be won over. This was the home opener, after all, that bastion of optimism and hope. It's practically a civic obligation to believe on this of all days. All it would have taken was a couple of timely hits here, a solid rally there, maybe even, gasp, a home run, to cement the Wedge manifesto that the times, they are a changin'.
Instead, it was all too painfully familiar: the tease in the first with two runners on base, only to die there. The inevitable desultory stretch of outs, interrupted by the next quasi-threat in the fourth, with the false alarm of a near Michael Saunders three-run homer, hooking just on the wrong side of the foul pole. Followed shortly, of course, by the inevitable called third strike.
You've seen it all before, right up to the absolute blast (this time by Dustin Ackley) getting hauled in at the warning track, another victim of the Safeco Field graveyard. (During a live chat with The Seattle Times on Thursday, Cameron strongly advocated for moving in the fences, speaking on behalf of all frustrated hitters — but that's a topic for another time.)
It was just one game, and I guarantee it did nothing to dampen Wedge's enthusiasm, which can be infectious. Ah, but for everyone else — well, let's just say that Mariner Fever is not epidemic right now, after the M's managed three measly hits. Wedge's optimism rang hollow after the game, but he still spoke with the zeal of a true believer.
"We'll settle in and be more consistent and have better at-bats," he said. "I really feel that once we hit our stride, you'll see a much more consistent team offensively."
At some point, however, the Mariners are going to have to show their progress in tangible, consistent ways.
I tend to agree with Wedge's general premise, by the way — the Mariners are closer to being a good team than they are to being the horrid mess of recent vintage. But that ascension is no guarantee. Contention will not be a fait accompli. And until it happens, that characteristic restless murmur will continue to be heard at Safeco, slowly swelling to an irritable clamor, then an angry din, as the thwarted scoring opportunities mount.
I asked Wedge before Friday's game if he was seeing things not apparent to the casual observer that were fueling him to believe the Mariners are becoming a good team "before our eyes."
"I would hope I would always see things that aren't apparent to you guys, otherwise I'm in trouble," he said, with a bit of a twinkle. "I hope I can dig a little deeper than that. But that's fair to say. I've told you before, it's a lot easier for me than it is for you, or the fans, or even the front office or ownership, just because I'm privy to everything that's going on down here, and all the conversations, and what the coaches are doing and what the players are doing.
"We've got a long way to go, but we've come a long way, too. You can define that as you see fit."
I'll define it as a work in progress. A frustrating, maddening, painfully slow and sometimes invisible work in progress.
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.