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4 reasons why the Mariners are 11-2

Power, pitching, speed contributing to Seattle's strong start
April 9, 2019

KANSAS CITY -- Let this sink in for a minute. Two Major League teams have scored six or more runs in 11 of their first 13 games in a season since 1908. That would be the 1932 Yankees and -- after Tuesday’s 6-3 win over the Royals -- the 2019

KANSAS CITY -- Let this sink in for a minute. Two Major League teams have scored six or more runs in 11 of their first 13 games in a season since 1908. That would be the 1932 Yankees and -- after Tuesday’s 6-3 win over the Royals -- the 2019 Mariners.

Things are getting historic in a hurry for a surprising Seattle club, which is off to an 11-2 start with a team expected to take as step back this season with 15 newcomers on its current 25-man roster and having traded away the veteran nucleus of last year’s 89-win club.

Here are four reasons the Mariners are rolling early even without Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Jean Segura, Edwin Diaz, James Paxton, et al.

1. The power is definitely on

Right fielder Jay Bruce, one of those newcomers, extended the team’s streak with a home run to open the season to 13 straight games with a first-inning shot off Royals starter Jakob Junis.

The Mariners are now tied for the second most consecutive games with a homer to start a season, one back of the Indians’ record of 14, set in 2002. Seattle is tied with the 1954 Cubs and 2017 Tigers with 13.

Longest team home run streaks to start a season

Bruce, one of five players acquired from the Mets in the Cano/Diaz deal, now has seven homers in 12 games, tying him with Cody Bellinger for the MLB lead. Bruce was batting just .186 heading into Tuesday, but seven of his first nine hits this season have now cleared the fence.

“You ever go to the store to buy one banana?” Bruce asked with a semi-straight face. “No, you buy them in bunches. That’s usually how homers come.”

The 32-year-old totaled nine homers in 94 games last year in an injury-plagued season, but hit 36 in 2017 for the Mets and Indians, and has been healthy this spring for Seattle.

“I feel like there’s a lot more for me in the tank this season as far as just playing, just overall,” Bruce said. “I try to turn the page as quickly as I can after anything happens, whether good or bad. I’m just looking forward to the next game.”

Seattle’s 33 homers ties the record for most in the first 13 games of a season, equaling the 2000 Cardinals.

2. On the Marco again

Not all the Mariners’ success has been about mashing homers. Marco Gonzales became the second Seattle pitcher to win his first four starts to open a season while lowering his ERA to 3.16 with six strong innings.

The 27-year-old southpaw allowed six hits and three runs (two earned) with two walks and five strikeouts in a smooth 97-pitch performance. Gonzales got a jump on the rest of MLB by winning Seattle’s Opening Day in Tokyo against the A’s a week before everyone else started playing, then he beat the Red Sox in the Mariners’ home opener.

He’s now added wins over the Angels and Royals, giving up just two earned runs in 14 1/3 innings in those latest two victories. The only other Mariner to win at least four straight starts to open a season was Rick Honeycutt, who racked up six consecutive victories in 1980.

Mariners starters are now 9-0 with a 3.66 ERA in 13 games.

“I’m pretty team-oriented,” Gonzales said. “I love that we’re out swinging the bats. Run support is the story of the start to the season so far. It’s pretty comforting when you take the mound knowing our guys are going to come out swinging.”

3. Speed-Dee doesn’t hurt either

Add No. 9 hitter Dee Gordon as another non-thumper reason for Seattle’s early success. The 30-year-old second baseman dealt with a broken toe that slowed his second half last year, but he’s off and running again in '19, and went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and swiped his MLB-leading sixth stolen base.

For all their power display, Seattle also leads the Majors with 15 stolen bases in 13 games, thanks to Gordon and fellow speedster Mallex Smith, who has four. The Mariners have outstolen their opponents, 15-5.

“No pain. My feet are healthy. I just get to play baseball again,” said Gordon, who feels back to being himself at second base again after last year’s center-field experiment.

Gordon is hitting .341, but his glove was even more critical in the eighth inning, as he made spectacular back-to-back diving plays -- on a 112-mph grounder by Hunter Dozier with two on and one out, then snaring a 105-mph line drive by Chris Owings for the third out to preserve a 6-3 lead for Rule 5 Draft pick, reliever Brandon Brennan.

“That man is my savior right now,” Brennan said. “I love him. Dee had an absolute great game today. You can’t be more confident on the mound than when you have a guy like that behind you.”

4. It takes a village, or at least nine guys

The Mariners racked up 15 hits and have had 12 or more in their past four games. Daniel Vogelbach went 3-for-5 with two doubles and is hitting .611 (11-for-18) with nine extra-base hits and nine RBIs in his last five games, and the entire lineup kept producing.

“Our lineup, top to bottom, has been really good,” manager Scott Servais said. “We had the one home run early -- I say just one home run, we’re kind of getting used to more. But we grinded it out, put a number of pitches on their starter and got him out of the game after four innings and were able to tack on a few runs late, which was really helpful for our bullpen tonight.”

“I think we’re hitting on all cylinders right now,” Smith said. “ We’re playing the whole game. The speed game. The power game. Defense, we have our little miscues, but it’s been made up other places. We’ve got a really complete team, top to bottom.”

“No matter how rosy-colored glasses you look through, it’s not going to be like this all year,” Bruce said. “It’s important to win these games and take advantage of our opportunities. We’re playing great baseball right now. We’re playing with a lot of energy, our starting pitchers are taking care of business and we’re working on defense every single day. It’s been good.”

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