I’m a bit of a simple man, I will admit that. I like loud movies, the cannons in the 1812 Overture, used to (cringe) DVR Michael Irvin’s JACKED UP segment once upon a time, and once got emotional at the end of Armageddon. Take this in mind when I say, while acknowledging that not quite 10% of the season has passed, the Mariners season may just be defined by their closer, Edwin Diaz.
Through thirteen games, the Mariners have been a boardwalk cartoonist’s version of what we thought they would be. The offense, even largely missing Nelson Cruz and entirely missing Mike Zunino, has the 4th highest wRC+ in the game. Robinson Cano has an on base percentage of .537. Mitch Haniger’s next bad at bat will be his first. Even the April Iceman, Kyle Seager, has a 155 wRC+. An offense with an assumed range of above average to very good has largely found its ceiling. They may not (they will not) be this good all year, but if/when Zunino returns they will have a long, deep lineup, capable of punishing mistakes, and grinding through arms.
The pitching, however, has been atrocious. Even with Felix Hernandez’s quality six inning start yesterday Seattle starters are barely averaging five innings a start, and have the second highest FIP in baseball. Marco Gonzales has gotten through the fourth inning once this year. Mike Leake is walking a tight rope with no net, and the rope is on fire, and there are crocodiles down below.
A team with a great offense and terrible pitching, loosely, abstracts to a .500 team. That’s what a lot of us have thought the Mariners were since about November of last year. Indeed thus far they have scored exactly as many runs as they have allowed, one of the most .500 things a team can do, when you paint their story by number. Within that, however, lies a pivot point, a fulcrum, and it is a viciously talented wisp of a closer from Puerto Rico.
Diaz’s start to the season has been the pop this team needed. Always talented and capable, he has harnessed his fastball command for the team’s first two weeks, and when he does there are exactly zero relievers in baseball clearly better than him. If, and it is a huge if, this represents the next evolutionary leap in Diaz’s career the Mariners as wild card contenders is not the long shot it was at the beginning of the season. Already, the Mariners have won four games by two or fewer runs. A change in just one, or heaven help us, two of those outcomes and the season’s positive start lags into the “Same Old Mariners” zone. You know of what I speak.
The Astros are in town for four games. The Astros are a better team than the Mariners. They will have the starting pitching advantage in three of four games. They have, regardless of early season numbers, the better lineup. They may not have a better closer. The Mariners’ 2018 can bend and twist many ways, and that will go through the right arm of Edwin Diaz.