10 days into the season, Mariners still not eliminated from playoff contention

By Brandon Cline, Staff Writer

In the first 10 games of the 2015 MLB season, the Seattle Mariners find themselves with a record of 3-3 (will update) and while it doesn’t sound glamorous, the first few weeks of the season provide almost no indicator of how a team’s season will play out.

The Mariners defeated the Los Angeles Angels 4-1 on Opening Day, their ninth consecutive Opening Day win. For those who care to forget about those past nine seasons, the Mariners missed the playoffs — the true barometer for success in baseball — each and every time.

The Mariners went on to lose the next two games and the series against the Angels, pushing their record to 1-2. Of the past six American League West Division winners, though, only one team won its opening series.

There’s a mindset amongst many Mariners fans that if change isn’t noticeable right off the bat, literally, the Mariners will fall back into irrelevancy by the end of spring. Thirteen straight years of missing the postseason — eight of which have been losing seasons — have struck fear into the fanbase where many are too scared to fully embrace the team until they are still contending late into the summer.

It is well too early to fret about this Mariners team. This team returns nearly every player who played a significant part in last year’s 87 win team that was fighting for a playoff berth in the last game of the regular season.

The team has added legitimate corner outfielders in Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano, with Smith going 3-3 with three extra base hits and two runs batted in on Opening Day.

Reigning MLB home run champion Nelson Cruz was brought in and all he’s done is hit two home runs for the Mariners in their first six games, a three-run homer in the top of the eighth against the Athletics on April 11 with Seattle trailing 4-2 and a game-winning home run the very next day in extra innings to give the Mariners an 8-7 win.

The Mariners’ additions have come through in clutch situations early on, thanks to manager Lloyd McClendon for not being scared to roll the dice.

With runners on second and third with two outs during Sunday’s game and the Mariners up 4-3, McClendon pinch hit late offseason addition Rickie Weeks, who was just 1-14 heading into the game, for Smith to get the lefty-righty hitting matchup he desired. It paid off big time, as Weeks promptly crushed a three-run homer to put the Mariners up 7-3.

McClendon is the savviest and most competent manager the Mariners have had since Lou Piniella. He’s not afraid to recycle through three relief pitchers to get three hitters out late in a game like he did on Opening Day or to make impromptu trips out to the mound himself to calm a pitcher down. McClendon makes his players tick and is a calming presence during the course of both a frantic game and an exhausting season.

“He’s our boss, he’s the key to why this team has been so good,” said Felix Hernandez in 2014 in an interview with 710 ESPN Seattle.

Don’t let the first week of a 162 game season fool you. Rome wasn’t built in a day, just like a World Series contending team doesn’t peak in April.