It is almost time for Mariners Opening Day 2.0 and things are about to get tougher. After sweeping aside the Oakland A’s in Japan, the Mariners are set to face off against the defending champs, the Boston Red Sox.
It is a pretty tough way to start in 2019, but Mariners have no choice. Their first 6 games of 2019 come against 2 of the 5 AL playoff teams of last season, the A’s posting 97 wins and Boston with 108 wins.
Thankfully, the Mariners have already banked 2 wins, but how do they find success in the Boston series. Well, I don’t know how you define success, but at least splitting the series seems pretty successful to me. But how can they do it? By following these 3 steps.
1. Control the Zone
Yes, the Mariners stated offensive mantra does make sense. But think about it. Seattle is set to face Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Rick Porcello. How are you going to scratch enough runs across that gauntlet to take 2 games from them?
Well, the short answer is that you probably can’t. The Mariners have a good offense, but a lot of teams will struggle with the Red Sox rotation. So how do they beat them? By not facing them more than they have to. The weakness of the Red Sox, at least on paper, is their bullpen. By controlling the zone, not chasing bad pitches, and working counts, Seattle may be able to knock a few of these starters out before the 6th.
We have already watched them do it to Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada. Obviously, doing it against those guys is much simpler than doing it against Sale, but Seattle will need to elevate these starters pitch counts to have a chance.
It won’t be easy, but nothing about playing the Red Sox will be. If Seattle can find a way to force the staters out of the game before their third time through the lineup, it could set up a tired bullpen early in the season, a group the Mariners offense should be able to handle.
2. Don’t Give Away Outs
This is a pretty simple key that applies to most games. But when you are significantly less talented than your opponent, anything you do to help them could be a fatal flaw. This means the defense needs to be better than it has all spring. Seattle simply doesn’t have the pitching to find a 4th out an inning against Boston.
But this also applies to the offense. Bunting should be all but forgotten this series. It should be used less frequently in general, but in this series, handing the Red Sox a quick and easy out could fatal. Remember, the Sox have to record 27 outs for you to lose. Don’t make it 25 or less. Be careful on the base paths, no dumb mistakes.
You also can’t give the Red Sox more than 27 outs to play with. It isn’t about playing scared, it’s just about playing smart.
3. Don’t Expose the Bullpen
Despite an overall positive performance by the bullpen in Japan, there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered. The Mariners bullpen is far from safe and the starting pitchers can go a long way in helping them out. Seattle will send Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Mike Leake, and Wade LeBlanc to the mound in this series. If the 4 starters can cover 24 of the 36 innings, they’ll be in good shape.
Think about the mixing and matching Scott Servais can do if his starters average 18 outs per start. It allows the Mariners to set up matchups a day in advance and should help maintain the bullpen until their first off-day on April 3rd.
Seattle cannot hide their bullpen for the next 160 games, but against teams like Boston, they’ll need to try and limit the number of high leverage situations to throw these guys into. Pitching will be the key to this series.
There you have it, three keys to at least split a series against the defending world champion Boston Red Sox. Seattle will need to play well and maybe get a little lucky to take the series. But, as we so often say, anything can happen because, well, baseball.