The Mariners’ season-opening loss in Texas on Monday exhibited several of the very flaws that proved fatal to last season.
That’s precisely the reason that no one should read too much into the outcome of this one game.
A year ago, the Mariners struck out too often and relied too much on the long ball, and while those are two of the reasons that Seattle lost 3-2 Monday along with an inexplicable fifth-inning meltdown by half of its infield, the performance was not indicative of the way this team has been built.
These Mariners are improved on defense even if it didn’t look like it in their opener. The outfield will be more athletic, Seattle’s lineup more thoughtfully constructed, oriented around more than just power with an eye toward putting tougher outs in front of opposing pitchers.
It would be easy to point to a pair of solo home runs and 11 strikeouts and say that nothing had changed with the Mariners. After all, this is a team that struck out more often than all but three other teams in the league last season and whose clean-up hitter, Nelson Cruz, had no one aboard when he hit 23 of his team-high 40 home runs.
But an easy criticism doesn’t translate to accurate. At least not in this case.
Yes, the Mariners struck out 11 times, but they were also facing an opponent’s ace in Cole Hamels, who had the benefit of throwing from the sun and into the shadows at home plate for his final few frames.
And while Seattle’s only runs came on solo home runs by Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, it’s also worth noting that matched the total number of homers that Hamels allowed to left-handed batters all of last season.
There are concerns on this team, namely a bullpen that is built around hope and a belief in the return to the mean for several pitchers who had down years. Even Felix Hernandez was a bit of a concern after he gave up three earned runs in the first inning of his final spring-training outing.
Neither of those worries had a thing to do with why Seattle lost on Monday, though. The Mariners were beaten because one of the game’s very best pitchers lost his feel for the strike zone at exactly the same point in the game when his Gold Glove third baseman and rookie shortstop exhibited a cast-iron touch on routine ground balls.
It was frustrating. It was also freaky, and it was definitely fluky. Consider that Monday was Hernandez’s 335th game in Major League Baseball and just the 12th time he has walked five or more batters.
This isn’t to try and erase the difficulty of digesting the loss. Seattle was beaten in a game in which it had more home runs (two) than its opponents had hits (one). But let’s not get carried away thinking that this loss embodies a failure to rectify the problems from a year ago.