Let’s get tipsy: Reflections on the Mariners opening series of 2021

There’s a magnificent James Acaster routine (I mean, all James Acaster routines are magnificent, but there’s a particular one that is relevant here) about drinking that I was thinking about over opening weekend.

“There are four things you can be in life,” he says. “Sober, tipsy, drunk and hungover. And tipsy is the only one out of the four where you don’t cry during it. The best thing you can be in life is tipsy.”

The 2021 Seattle Mariners are the epitome of sober (and as Acaster points out, that will lead to tears at some point). They’ve spotted that first pint, and they’re having a sip or two. But the alcohol hasn’t yet hit the system properly. They’ve lined up the fancy craft DIPAs to move on to but right now they’re with one or two friends, sipping a session ale, waiting for the rest of their mates to arrive.

Every now and then some light jokes are told, but we’re a way off the raucous anecdotes. We’re in “how was your weekend?” chat, still testing the boundaries and settling in. We’re not yet in “go on then, how did you end up setting your jumper on fire?” chat.

Next year is the year when “the process” is supposed to start bearing fruit for the Mariners, and so 2021 is a year of vague “show some signs of development as a team” and then a laundry list of small incremental improvements from different players. Next year is the year that we progress to tipsy, to the steady level of enjoyment. Before we get drunk and regret our life choices. In theory, anyway.

I’ve decided to think about each series incrementally as well. Each group of two or three games, or each week, needs to have certain things that you want from the team. So as we opened the season by hosting (and beating, having gone 0-4 against them last year…) the San Francisco Giants, what did we want to see, and did we see it?

What we wanted to see: The return of Mitch Haniger, showing us that he’s still got it
Did we see it?: Undoubtedly yes. In the opening night CHAOSBOWL™ where the Mariners came back from five runs down to win an extra-innings thriller, Haniger sprung to his right to make a sprawling catch to stop the Giants scoring what would have been a go-ahead run in the 10th inning. In the third game, a solid and effective 4-0 victory, he hit a 387ft homer in the seventh. This was his first big league appearance since June 2019 and *that* testicle related injury. And it felt GOOD.

What we wanted to see: Evan White showing some improvement with the bat
Did we see it?: White won a gold glove last year, his first in the majors. He is an unbelievable first baseman. But what he didn’t show last year was anything with the bat. He hit .176, making him the Mike Zunino of first baseman. So we just needed some sort of clue that he’s worked out which end of the bat is which. In these first three games against the Giants he got a hit in every game, including two doubles (he hit only seven of those in total last season), and knocked in two RBI. You absolutely should not base anything on a three-game sample size, but he’s hitting .231. Which is an improvement, if you ask me. So I’m taking it.

What we wanted to see: a bullpen not made of cardboard cut-outs
Did we see it?: Sort of. In the second game of the year – and his first as a Mariner – Drew Steckenrider gave up three runs in 0.2 innings in relief of Yusei Kikuchi, giving him one of those magnificent early season ERAs of 40.50 and tagging him with the loss. Rafael Montero, ostensibly this year’s closer, blew the save opportunity in the first game of the season (which thankfully didn’t matter in the end). But in the third game, he threw 1.1 innings and gave up absolutely nothing to seal the win. There’s a lot of words written about pace of play, but Kendall Graveman came in during the sixth inning of the third game of the year and struck out the side in less time than it took me to whip up the ingredients for an omelette (yes, I watched the opening series ‘as live’ over breakfast in the morning, deal with it). He struggled in the seventh, but still. That omelette inning was pretty good.

What we wanted to see: An improvement from Yusei Kikuchi
Did we see it?: Sort of. In the first couple of innings of his first performance of the year, he was lobbing absolute fire. His fastball hit 97mph, and he was largely unhittable. He weakened and eventually gave up three runs (two of them home runs) on six hits but struck out 10. I so desperately want to have faith in Yusei, as he seems like one of the loveliest men in all the world, but I remain to be fully convinced. But there were incremental improvements to be seen here, if you chose to view them that way.

What we wanted to see: Taylor Trammell, general
Did we see it?: Hell yes. The standout player from Spring Training, Trammell got his first outfield assist in his first game, an arrow to throw out Evan Longoria at second base; then he got his first hit – and first RBI – in that 4-0 victory in game three, sending home Evan White with an easy double to centre-right. The play that got everyone really excited was an eight-pitch bases-loaded walk in the first game of the year that scored Haniger and saw Scott Servais describe him as “cooler than the other side of the pillow”. I can’t disagree with that review to be honest. Trammell is perfect for this team, and it was great to see him starting so well.

There were other things to see – the Mariners insistence on hitting doubles; Ty France hitting the team’s first homer of the year; Jake Fraley walking SIX TIMES IN THREE GAMES (!). But this is enough for now.

While the team is still stone-cold sober, it is definitely making tracks to the bar for another drink right now. A knowing smile sits on it’s face as it orders a pint and turns to its friends, gathered around a table in the corner of the pub.

A good night awaits. Let’s get tipsy.

Bamos is covering the Seattle Mariners during 2021 as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @applebamos

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