The Mariners came into 2023 with huge expectations, and rightfully so. This team has two consecutive 90-win seasons and busted the longest playoff drought in North American major sports history. Yet, a month into the season, the hometown team is treading water due to some uncharacteristically poor bullpen work and shoddy defense. So let's dig into our initial assumptions from opening day and unveil "Two Truths, One Lie."
Truth #1: Starting pitching will drive the team.
President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto and General Manager Justin Hollander constructed this team with a simple recipe: Rock solid starting pitching, good defense, and a lockdown bullpen. Four of the five starters are holding up their end of the bargain, ranking in the upper third of the league in numerous categories.
Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, and Marco Gonzales keep the team in games while contributing a rotation coming in 3rd in the league in WAR (4.0).
Truth #2: Jarred Kelenic's nuclear spring signaled a breakout.
Former top prospect Jarred Kelenic's major league-level struggles are well-documented. The book was the mental side of the game holding him back. He'd rake in the minor leagues and crumble with the pressure of performing with the big-league club. That was the narrative until Kelenic came to Peoria with a remade physique and an approach tailor-made for his powerful lefty stroke.
Coming into the season, the thought was to protect the 23-year-old outfielder from left-on-left matchups by platooning him with veteran AJ Pollock. Instead, he is raking both lefthanders (.380) and right-handers (.327) to a confidence-boosting start. He's in the top three in the AL in OPS, wRC+, SLG, wOBA, HR, and average. There is just something different about the young phenom this season, which bodes well for the Mariners' success in the future.
Lie #1: Marco Gonzales is the odd man out.
Luis Castillo's changeup, Logan Gilbert's splitter, and George Kirby's two-seamer all have one thing in common: they are elite pitches. But do you know one guy that doesn't fit that mold? Marco Gonzales. The crafty lefty thrives on control and playing the yo-yo game with hitters' timing. In some ways, he entered the season as the odd man out, with fans clamoring for top prospect Bryce Miller to make the rotation out of Peoria. Thankfully, manager Scott Servais stuck with him, and the team has reaped the benefits of a rejuvenated Gonzales including a career high strikeout rate (22.1 SO%).
With Chris Flexen struggling to grab hold of Robbie Ray's vacated spot in the rotation, the pressure is on the bulldog to solidify the backend. One month into the season, he looks up to the challenge, which is a godsend considering the instability in the rotation and a less than stellar start.