With the LA Angels heading to Seattle to face off against the Mariners in a quick two game series, I spoke to Ty Gonzalez of FanSided’s Seattle Mariners site SoDo Mojo about the upcoming series, their offseason, and Ichiro’s legacy.
1.) How is the season going so far? At 3-0 (at the time of writing) it has to be exceeding expectations, but how do you see this continuing over the first two weeks of the season?
It’s been weird. With Spring Training being practically cut in half due to the Japan Series, this team didn’t look very ready to play real games. But through the first three games, their offense has been dominant and their pitching has held their own against two incredible lineups.
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Several Mariners players have mentioned having a chip on their shoulder for how the media and fans alike have disregarded their chances of doing anything of note this season, and they’ve clearly brought that edge with them onto the field. They’re a competitive team that will give each and every one of their opponents fits; however, I expect their talent level—or, rather, lack thereof—will eventually catch up to them in the near future.
2.) Ichiro has played his final game and retired following the Mariners series against the Athletics in Japan, how much of an impact did he have on the team, city, and fans over his Seattle tenure?
Ichiro came at a crucial time in Mariners lore. Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez were gone, Jay Buhner was entering his final year with the team, and Edgar Martínez wasn’t far behind. The city needed another baseball superstar and they got one right away with Ichiro, who jump-started that magical 116-win season in his rookie campaign.
He helped keep the Mariners on the map when they were supposed to fade away long before this current historic playoff drought. Even when the Mariners were at their worst, Ichiro kept them relevant. But to only mention his impact on the city of Seattle and the Mariners fanbase would be a disservice to his legacy; Ichiro’s success in the MLB opened more doors for Japanese-born players, and inspired many more as you’ve seen with the likes of Shohei Ohtani and Yusei Kikuchi.
3.) Who will the Angels be facing on the mound this series, and how do you see them performing up against the Angels’ lineup?
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Mariners will have Félix Hernández on the mound for the first game and Marco Gonzales for the second. Because of how weird the Japan Series made things, this will be Félix’s first start of the year while Marco will already be making his third.
Félix was dreadful for the entirety of Spring Training and I don’t expect that to suddenly change overnight. His velocity continues to dip and he’s failed to adapt to his own regression. He still wants to overpower hitters and that’s just not going to happen anymore, but he’s remained stubborn. If I had to guess, that might be a pretty good night for the Angels’ lineup.
Marco, on the other hand, has struggled with some command issues in his first two starts and can’t seem to put hitters away in a timely manner. Then again, he’s faced two of the best lineups in baseball thus far with limited Spring Training action, so I don’t expect these struggles to continue for much longer. Last year, he was 2-0 in his five starts against the Angels with a 2.88 FIP and a K/9 of nearly 10, so I suspect this could be a good opportunity for him to get back on the horse.
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4.) Who is one player not many people know of that will surprise Halo fans this weekend?
Given all the moves the Mariners made this offseason, there are plenty of names that may surprise Angels fans. But two in particular that have gotten off to extremely hot starts have been Domingo Santana and Tim Beckham.
The first thing you may notice about Santana is his elite opposite-field power. Of Santana’s 56 career home runs, 22 of them have gone to right field. He already has one this year with an opposite-field grand slam against the Athletics. Santana has also already set the MLB record for most RBIs (9) in March with three games to go.
Beckham has been the biggest surprise to everyone, however. When the Mariners first signed Beckham back in January, the consensus was that he would merely be a stop-gap solution at shortstop until J.P. Crawford‘s service time was clocked. But Beckham has been otherworldly through the first three games of the season, notching seven hits in 12 plate appearances, three of which being monster home runs that were each topped off with an 80-grade bat flip. If the Mariners win one or both games in this series, both Beckham and Santana will likely be at the forefront of their success.
5.) Jerry Dipoto made a million moves this offseason, and a lot of people around the country are split on whether the team is contending, rebuilding, or somewhere in the middle. What’s your take on the moves, and which were your favorite and least favorite?
Jerry Dipoto has classified his process as a “retooling” of the roster. But to make things simple: yes, they are rebuilding. However, as they’ve made these deals and shed some of their larger financial commitments (Robinson Canó, Jean Segura, etc.), they’ve had to take on a few short-term deals to even out some of the money changing hands.
By taking on the financial burden of players such as Edwin Encarnación and Jay Bruce, Dipoto has essentially created a competitive ballclub unintentionally. Dipoto does envision the Mariners rebuild to be a lot shorter than most, though, with several of their top prospects roughly a year or less away from the majors. Because of this, he didn’t shy away from acquiring young, MLB-ready talent in the form of Yusei Kikuchi, Mallex Smith, Domingo Santana, and Omar Narváez this offseason. Put Mitch Haniger and Dee Gordon into that mix and you have an offense that could sneak its way near the top of American League leaderboard.
As their pitching staff starts to develop more over the course of the season and Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson enter the rotation, this could be one of the more fun teams to keep an eye from a general baseball fan’s perspective. Don’t let all this talk about 2019 fool you, though; this season is strictly about development and progression for their younger players.
The Mariners don’t want to keep competing for the second wild card on a yearly basis. They want to build a team that can compete with the upper echelon of the American League and achieve and sustain championship-level success throughout the 2020s.
For a full series preview, you can read all about the upcoming two games for the Angels, here.