The Mariners begin their regular season Monday in Oakland against the A’s. KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel explains what fans can expect after an impressive spring training.
'This team will be better'
Art says it's customary not to put too much stock into a team's performance during spring training. But it's hard to ignore what the Mariners have done. As of Wednesday, they hit 55 home runs — a club record and close to a Major League record.
What does that mean for fans?
"They have reason for optimism. This team will be better. HOW much better is as hard to predict as I have ever seen."
Art says three players who've been hot in spring training need to have their hot streaks continue in the regular season for the team to really hit some goals.
Rookie pitcher Brandon Mauer
"He's done something that the Mariners haven't seen in 20 years. He made the leap from Double-A Jackson to the Major League roster. He was announced Wednesday as the No. 4 starter. He skipped Triple-A ball. But, at 22, he has mastered five pitches. And that is something you just don't see in a young pitcher."
Young veterans Smoak and Montero
Art says Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero also need to shine this season. You'll recall he said the same thing at the start of spring training, and both players have put up some impressive numbers since then.
"Smoak has really been tearing it up in spring. Hitting over .380. A lot of power. He seems to have corrected his batting stroke and he's also applied himself mentally like no one's seen before. Montero has also improved. We have to see in a Major League game whether they can deliver under that kind of pressure."
'Room for some hope'
Art says overall, he's cautiously optimistic.
"I would like to see this team be in contention by Labor Day. In the past, they've often been done by Memorial Day. You gotta get to Labor Day with your team within eight or nine games within first place. That means something. It brings some fans back who have abandoned the Mariners - and a lot of them have abandoned the Mariners. Even if they get into contention and are in there in the final days, a lot of those fans have had their hearts broken for 10 years - they're not going to come back for a while. Sustained excellence will bring them back."
He says the Mariners have to start somewhere. They didn't sign any big free agents or big names in the off-season. But they did pick up some people who can help get the team into contention.