The 2011 Seattle Mariners embarked on a fresh season in which expectations were and remain drastically subdued after a 101-loss season when much more was anticipated.
The team opened up in Oakland and came away with a 2-1 series win with starters Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas performing well in the first two games (Hernandez earning the first CG win in an M’s opener in franchise history) and the offense doing enough to get the first two wins.
The third game seemed to be a bit of a struggle against an elite young left-hander in Gio Gonzalez and the sun as all three starting outfielders misplayed flyballs during the course of the game.
In the three game series, quite a few things were learned about what this team’s identity will be under new manager Eric Wedge and how the offense, defense and pitching will perform. Clearly, it is still early and one series out of a season full of them is not enough to make definitive judgments, but I think we can pinpoint a couple of good and bad aspects compared to what happened last year.
- Patience of the offense. With seven walks in the opener and 14 for the entire series, clearly this lineup is more adept at working the count, seeing pitches and making starters work than it has been in recent history.
- Justin Smoak. After coming over midseason in the Cliff Lee trade, Smoak struggled at times getting a feel at the plate. Whether it was left-handed pitchers, strikeouts or hitting with RISP, he had his difficulties. After the first weekend, Smoak is hitting .333 (3-for-9) with 2 doubles and 3 walks. The most encouraging thing? All three of his hits were against lefties.
- Ichiro. I’ve long been a critic of the new Mariners franchise hits leader. I mean 24% of his hits are infield hits and even in the opener with a chance to give his team the lead with a man on second, Ichiro tried to bunt for a base hit. Well that bunt went foul and he eventually flipped a pitch into shallow left to score the go-ahead run and help lift the team to the opening win. He also came through in game 2 and is hitting .417 on the young season.
- Brandon League. Had a 1-2-3 scoreless ninth in game 2 after a up and down spring.
- Set up relief. Sure some of the struggles on Sunday were due to misplays in the outfield but early on a couple of the pitchers being counted on for success in a vastly reshaped bullpen — Chris Ray and Josh Lueke — had their struggles.
- Hitting with men in scoring position. Friday was brutal. A 1-for-11 performance in which they stranded nine men before the sixth inning. Luckily the offense and Felix were aided by a A’s defense that resembled a little league squad as they kicked the ball around for five errors.
Well, that about sums it up after the first three games. Not a time to get carried away with either the good or the bad, but a 2-1 start with a series win on the road in Oakland is a good start any way you slice it for the Mariners.