Could One of MLB’s Biggest ‘Tankers’ Actually Be Shocking 2019 Contenders?
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - APRIL 08:  Jay Bruce #32 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his home run with Daniel Vogelbach #20 in the eighth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 08, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The Seattle Mariners entered 2019 in tank mode. They traded key players over the winter and appeared headed for an unabashed rebuild. 

As Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan put it in November, “They have indicated they’re willing to wait a few years to build a competitive team again.”

Suddenly, that timetable could be upended. At the risk of mangling the metaphor, the tank is soaring in the Pacific Northwest.

Entering play Wednesday, the Mariners were 11-2 with a 3.5-game lead over the defending division champion Houston Astros in the American League West.

Their plus-40 run differential was tops in baseball, thanks largely to an offense that had scored 104 runs. Next-best in the Junior Circuit? The Oakland Athletics with 68 runs scored (and a plus-four run differential).

Dan Vogelbach, who has sipped cups of coffee in each of the past three seasons with Seattle but never made much of a dent in The Show, is leading the charge with five home runs, a .500 average and 1.984 OPS. Shortstop Tim Beckham is hitting .400 with four homers and 11 RBI.

Veteran Edwin Encarnacion, whom the Mariners acquired from the Cleveland Indians this offseason and who seemed destined to be flipped again for salary relief, owns a 1.142 OPS and four dingers. Outfielder Jay Bruce, another vet the M’s appeared likely to dangle in trade, has seven homers.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - APRIL 07: Edwin Encarnacion #10 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates in the dugout after hitting a two run home run in the fourth inning against the against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on April 07, 2019 in Chicago, Ill

Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Outfielder Domingo Santana (.345 average, 1.047 OPS) and second baseman Dee Gordon (.341 average, six stolen bases) have augmented the attack.

And there’s this, via the team’s official PR Twitter feed:

“We like our team. It’s a different look to our team. I get that. It’s not the household names, the names you are used to seeing in our lineup,” Seattle manager Scott Servais told reporters. “But these guys can play.”

Guys like Encarnacion, Bruce and Gordon are relatively well-known, and Gordon is in his second year with Seattle. But Servais’ larger point stands: These Mariners are winning behind a collection of players no one tagged as exceptional or even league average. 

Despite their hot start, FanGraphs’ projection pegs the Mariners for an 80-82 finish. We’re in small-sample land, and Seattle’s pitching staff ranks 13th with a 3.78 ERA…not dreadful, but not close to great.

They traded away closer Edwin Diaz (along with second baseman Robinson Cano) in a swap with the New York Mets. James Paxton was shipped to the New York Yankees.

Meanwhile, erstwhile ace Felix Hernandez has allowed 10 hits and five runs in 6.1 innings as he continues to tumble from his throne.

In King Felix’s stead, the Mariners are betting on a contingent including Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake and Yusei Kikuchi, none of whom has a neon light reading “ace” flashing above his head.

We can cast aspersions. We ought to nurture doubts. It’s April, after all.

That said, you never know. Sometimes clubs surprise. Teams arrive ahead of schedule. 

The Mariners possess the No. 10 farm system in the game, per Bleacher Report’s latest ranking. That’s partly because of an offseason sell-a-thon that was supposed to be all about the future.

But what if the future is now?

Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

“We’ve got a good thing going offensively right now,” Servais said, per Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. “We are playing good ball. Guys are enjoying it and having fun, which is great.”

It’s always great when you’re racking up W’s. The Mariners’ scalding start could be a mirage; it wouldn’t be the first in the annals of MLB.

Or maybe we’re looking at a shocking contender with the offensive upside to hang for the long haul. The Yankees are injury-bitten. The Boston Red Sox are 3-9. The Astros are a ho-hum 7-5. The AL Central is a mishmash of flawed franchises and outright rebuilders. 

Could the Mariners, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2001, slip into the picture?

It’s the longest active postseason drought in baseball. They were supposed to be moving backward before they moved forward. No one prognosticated a crack at October.

It’s way early, but tank mode may morph into go-for-it gear.

Stranger things have happened.


All statistics current as of Tuesday and courtesy of Baseball Reference and

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