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3 key observations from Mariners' hot start

@gregjohnsmlb
April 4, 2019

SEATTLE -- As we ponder the unexpected sight of the Mariners sitting with the best record in the Major Leagues at 7-1 as they await the start of a seven-game road trip Friday in Chicago, here are three observations:

  1. There is more than one way to save a game

SEATTLE -- As we ponder the unexpected sight of the Mariners sitting with the best record in the Major Leagues at 7-1 as they await the start of a seven-game road trip Friday in Chicago, here are three observations:

1. There is more than one way to save a game

Sure, it would be better to have Edwin Diaz anchoring the back of the bullpen. Yes, there are going to be times when the Mariners’ inexperienced relief crew costs them games. But no, it’s not the end of the world to have a group of relievers without specific inning roles, who are ready to come in whenever the situation best calls for it.

There actually is some advantage to having the flexibility to use your best right-handed option, for instance, in the seventh or eighth inning if the opposing lineup is bringing its best right-handed hitters to the plate that frame and then going with a lefty like Roenis Elias in the ninth against a lefty group of hitters. Or vice versa.

Manager Scott Servais has closed out four straight wins with four different relievers getting the save since veteran Hunter Strickland went on the injured list. Three of those pitchers -- Nick Rumbelow, Chasen Bradford and Elias -- had never before saved an MLB game in their careers. The fourth, Anthony Swarzak, was pitching his first game since coming off the injured list himself, and now has a grand total of seven saves in his 10 years in the bigs.

The Orioles used four different relievers to save their first four games this year, so the Mariners aren’t alone. Many teams are going with multiple closers this season. That is hard on fantasy owners, but makes sense for clubs who don’t have a Diaz or dominant finisher to count on.

2. Jet lag apparently isn’t fatal

There was concern, understandably, that the Mariners’ trek to Tokyo would disrupt the start of their season as players dealt with the travel, the 12-hour time difference and the upheaval in routine right as they transitioned from Spring Training to the grind of the regular season.

Having made the trip myself, I can attest to the difficulty of getting back to a normal sleep routine after having your body clock flipped from night to day, and then back again, in the span of a week. Anybody who has traveled abroad understands that challenge.

But that’s why MLB gave both the A’s and Mariners a six-day break upon returning to the U.S. to regain their bearings before resuming games that counted.

That break clearly worked, as while the Mariners sleepwalked through a pair of exhibition shutout losses to the Padres when they returned to Seattle, they’ve put up a 5-1 mark against the defending World Series champion Red Sox and American League West rival Angels once things got real.

And the A’s? Since returning from Tokyo, they've started out 5-2 against the Red Sox and Angels as well.

3. There are lots of good players just looking for a shot

This season has a very long way to go. Eight games represent just five percent of the 162-game slate and no one seriously draws major conclusions from what boils down to one week out of a six-month grind.

But Seattle’s terrific start has served as a good reminder that there are a whole lot of very good players who just need the right opportunity. Most Mariners fans understandably were dismayed when familiar and proven names like Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, James Paxton, Jean Segura, Mike Zunino and Diaz failed to return from last year's club.

Tim Beckham? Domingo Santana? Omar Narvaez? Mallex Smith? Who are these guys? Even veterans like Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion were former All-Stars coming off down years or reaching the end of the line, right?

Well, it took just one week and a strong stretch of play for those newcomers to introduce themselves in impressive fashion.

This makeshift Mariners team put up the second-most runs and home runs in the first eight games of any club in franchise history, behind only the 1998 squad that played its first eight games in the hitter-friendly Kingdome (and went 3-5), scoring 62 runs and launching 20 homers.

This year’s club has put up 56 runs with 17 homers. And 13 of those homers, 36 RBIs and 35 runs have come from newbies Beckham, Santana, Narvaez, Smith, Bruce and Encarnacion.

For a team that is pointing to the future, that's pretty good production in the now.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.