Hey, I wasn't the only one! Everyone was jumping on the Seattle Mariners' bandwagon with their preseason picks. At least I have the excuse of being a Mariners fan since the beginning in 1977: Through the time Lenny Randle blew the ball foul and Rick Honeycutt got caught with a thumbtack in his glove; through the Maury Wills era, when he once tried to alter the dimensions of the batter's box; through the falling tiles in the Kingdome; through the good times in the late '90s and early 2000s; through the horrid offenses of recent vintage.
So with the Mariners seemingly having the best team in over a decade, a team that could end the second-longest playoff drought in the majors, of course I was going to pick them to reach the World Series. You have to believe.
But here they are: 3-6 and they could easily be 1-8. They just got swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-game series in which Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke didn't even pitch. They haven't looked good. The general rule of thumb is you don't panic until May. OK, I get it -- but I'm going to play doomsdayer because all the major concerns heading into the season have proven to be the major problems so far.
A quick look at those issues:
1. Fernando Rodney, closer. For the most part, Rodney did the job last season, saving 48 games and posting a respectable 2.85 ERA. It wasn't always pretty, however, and there were some red flags in the numbers: He was 1-6, and among the 30 relievers with at least 15 saves, he ranked 27th in opponents' OBP allowed. Factor in that he recently turned 38, and you worried about him. On Sunday, he gave up four runs in the ninth inning to the Oakland A's, blowing a 7-3 lead and getting a cheap win when Nelson Cruz homered in the top of the 10th. On Tuesday, he blew a 5-4 lead as the Dodgers scored twice in the bottom of the ninth. How long of a leash do you give Rodney? It's one of the toughest calls a manager has to make. If you wait much longer, he may blow two more games in April -- two games that could be the difference between making the playoffs and watching on TV.
Level of concern: 10. Not feeling good about this at all. The crooked cap and shooting the arrows are about a thousand percent less fun when they're not backed up by outs.
2. Bullpen regression. Kansas City's bullpen got all the attention last season, but the Mariners had the lowest bullpen ERA in the majors at 2.59, much better than the Royals' 3.30. It was a deep and effective group, but bullpens are unpredictable from year to year. Regression was a possibility. On Saturday, Danny Farquhar blew a two-run lead in the eighth, although the Mariners ended up winning in extra innings. On Monday, James Paxton couldn't hold a 4-0 lead and the bullpen eventually lost it in the 10th. So it hasn't just been Rodney who's been shaky.
Level of concern: 4. Not too worried yet. There's still a lot of depth here. It hasn't helped that three extra-inning games in a row and some bad starters have forced Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon to use the pen early and often.
3. Austin Jackson may be in decline. Severe decline. Mariners center fielders were awful last season, so when they were chasing a playoff spot, general manager Jack Zduriencik went out and got Jackson from the Detroit Tigers. He was even worse, hitting a useless .229/.267/.270. Plus, his defensive metrics had gone from very good to "meh" (probably a reason the Tigers were willing to trade him). He hasn't inspired any confidence thus far, hitting .200/.243/.229.
Level of concern: 8. Not good, my Mariners friends, not good. Has Jackson hit the ball hard yet? I guess he's still better than Abraham Almonte, however.
4. Mike Zunino's on-base ability, aka "It's called a breaking ball." Zunino is a terrific defensive catcher. He has big power that plays in Safeco Field. He also hit .199 last season with a .254 OBP that featured just 17 walks and 158 strikeouts. Among players with 350 plate appearances, that matched Jonathan Schoop of the Baltimore Orioles for the worst walk/strikeout rate in the majors. Part of the optimism for the Mariners was tied to Zunino's improvement at the plate. He tore it up in spring training -- only Kris Bryant hit more home runs. He drew seven walks and wasn't swinging at every curveball between Tucson and Yuma. And then the regular season started. He's hitting .133 with one extra-base hit and 14 strikeouts. Ouch.
Level of concern: 7. Hey, he has two walks, so his strikeout-to-walk ratio is improving!
5. Taijuan Walker, expected breakout performer. The expectations rose with a big spring in which he may have been the best pitcher in Arizona, allowing just two runs and 10 hits in 27 innings with 26 strikeouts and just five walks. He would add depth to the rotation behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, along with James Paxton. And then the regular season started. He allowed nine runs in his first start. On Wednesday against the Dodgers, he struggled through four innings, giving up six hits, four walks and five runs. Fastballs were either up in the zone and hit hard, or up and out of the zone. He looked nervous, a lot of quick breaths between pitches. The confident pitcher of spring was gone.
Level of concern: 6. Walker's minor league stats have never matched his prospect status. He did pitch well enough in 38 innings in the majors last year but also battled a sore shoulder early in the season. Stay tuned.
But remember: It's only nine games. The good news: They head home for a nine-game homestand against the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins, followed by seven games against the Rangers and Astros. That's a pretty soft 16 games coming up. Time to make a move and calm down the heart rates of us Mariners fans.