Yes, it’s April 7th. Yes, baseball is a marathon of a season. Yes, it’s only one game. But yesterday’s 4-1 Opening Day over the defending AL West Champions Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim?) win felt different, and it’s already creating a buzz among Seattle Mariners fans. Aside from a first inning Mike Trout home run, the game felt easy and fluid. Everyone did their job and it showed in the box score.
A revamped Mariners offense piled up 10 hits, led by Seth Smith‘s three extra-base hits (a club record for an Opening Day game) and two RBIs. Smith was one of the quieter acquisitions of this past offseason, but he played a vital role in the M’s first win of the season. For those who are unfamiliar with him, Smith is what one might call a “professional hitter,” which basically means that he’s someone who will put in good at-bats and work a pitcher’s pitch count. This kind of batter is incredibly valuable in the second spot in the order because it allows the middle of the order to see the opposing pitcher’s repertoire before they bat. Having Smith in this lineup will provide consistency and veteran at-bats and is definitely something to keep an eye on going forward.
Possibly the most encouraging thing I noticed yesterday was the fact that the Mariners produced this kind of offense without much from the middle of their order. Robinson Cano lined an RBI single up the middle to give Seattle a 2-1 lead in the third inning, but Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager combined to for a 1-12 day. Just think about how much potential there is if these three All-Stars begin to manufacture runs. That is something this club hasn’t had in YEARS.
One thing that felt similar is Felix Hernandez, who had another stellar Opening Day outing. The King tossed seven frames of two-hit baseball, one of which was Trout’s first inning homer, and striked out 10 Angels batters. While it’s unfair that we take Felix for granted, this kind of performance seems to go under the radar often because he does it so regularly. He basically made one bad pitch and then completely baffled a lineup that led the MLB in runs (773) in 2014. Hernandez improved to 6-0 with a 1.50 ERA in 8 Opening Day starts. The best part? Felix got run support! YAY!
Oh yeah, and young reliever Carson Smith came into the game in a two-on, two-out jam and struck out Trout, arguably the best hitter in baseball. This guy has NASTY stuff and he is virtually unhittable against right-handers when he’s on his game.
Ahhhhh. Baseball is back, my friends. And it feels so good. Don’t get me wrong, this season isn’t going to be perfect and there’s going to be bumps in the road. But there’s something about this team that is special and I can’t wait to see what they do this year.
So far, so good.