Want some good news, Mariner fans?
I mean, besides the arrival of Luis Castillo, and the fact that your heroes are currently clinging to a wildcard spot by the width of a toddler fingernail?
OK, here’s what you’ll like…
I have a bit of deja vu.
It’s the feeling of 800,000 people wildly celebrating a World Series win.
In fact, millions of people were cheering, but those 800,000 people had all shown up in person – shoulder to shoulder in a giddy crowd.
Believe me, being there was something special.
I’m going to explain why the Mariners make me feel like I see the same thing—and the whole Northwest might end up going crazy—but first, I want to ask you a question.
When you think of Major League Baseball in general, what comes to mind about the Kansas City Royals?
Something like …
“Me. Do they have anyone other than Salvador Perez?
“I’m just glad we got to play them three times in September when the Mariners playoffs hang in the balance.”
That’s the general impression here — and everywhere, even in Kansas City.
AND EVEN …
The frenzied crowd of which I spoke, almost a million people screaming, laughing and shouting with pure joy – that was in Kansas City, less than seven years ago.
Granted, the Royals got lost and started wandering the desert after that World Series triumph in 2015.
Everything has separated, from ownership to baseball administrators, scouts and coaches, and naturally to fans – who don’t even bother to call radio talk shows anymore out of frustration.
If we go back a decade or so, from 2012 to 2014, you can see how a pennant winner was built.
What this means to us here and now is that the Mariners are SO much like that Royals team when it was forming.
Do these things sound familiar to you?
Lots of great draft picks. Sharp tracking across the country, and particularly in Latin America. A dramatic trade that was criticized at first, but helped add to a local core.
The NEXT piece of the puzzle could have been an accident, to be honest, but the Royals of this period — all the way through back-to-back World Series appearances — fundamentally changed baseball.
They built a back-to-front pitching stick.
Three or four lockout relievers allowed the Royals to give their starters the chance to throw it all in, knowing they only needed five innings, or six at most.
The Royals had the luxury of scraping a few points here and there, squeezing their way to a slim lead – then slamming the door on another – or a two-point victory.
And so …
Watch how managers are handling their pitchers in the playoffs this year.
“Give me five or six, big guy, and the ‘pen will take care of it from there.”
Game 5 of the 2015 series — which the Royals won 7-2 over the Mets in 12 innings to wrap up their title — was perfectly instructive for understanding baseball today.
Kansas City starter Edison Volquez only pitched six innings, though he allowed a two-run homer on the first and not even another hit.
Kelvin Herrera and his ’90s fastball went three innings, Luke Hochevar pitched two and closer Wade Davis finished by retiring the team in his only inning.
On the other side, Mets manager Terry Collins listened when Matt Harvey asked to pitch the ninth after going eight scoreless innings – and throwing 104 pitches.
The Mets had a closer dominant, Jeurys Familia, who would normally have finished with a 2-0 lead.
In place …
Harvey accompanied Lorenzo Cain to open the ninth, while Collins surprisingly still remained in the dugout. Finally, after Eric Hosmer burned a deep left double to score Cain, Collins called Familia.
Hosmer, however, scored the tying run on two outs on the ground, which ultimately sent the game to the 12th – and the Royals had their series title.
Kansas City’s relievers and Collins’ belief in sticking with a tiresome starter decided the game.
Since then, all managers have learned the lesson.
Nobody wants to imitate poor Terry Collins.
ALL OF THIS brings us to the Mariners of 2022, who (much like the Royals of 2015) aren’t exactly detonating bombs all over the stadium.
They’re only averaging a four-point tick per game, which normally wouldn’t get you into many playoffs.
But they can throw, they play the best defense in baseball, and they’re great base runners.
They play the game.
The Mariners are built like those Royals, and the way Scott Servais uses his pitching team reminds me so much of watching Kansas City in 2015.
Oh, and instead of trying to add the infamous “impact bat” to the trading deadline that year, the Royals traded some of the top prospects for starter Johnny Cueto (of Cincinnati, of all places) and infielder Ben Zobrist.
Jerry Dipoto just did the same thing.
He increased the strength of the team (Castillo) AND its areas of need (backup receiver Curt Casali and center reliever Matt Boyd), as well as finding a situation bat (Jake Lamb).
I feel like I’m seeing those Royals again.
For the comparison to be complete, the Mariners bullpen could be at full strength – with Diego Castillo and Ken Giles both back and needed.
I just don’t know if I see the 2014 Royals, a wildcard team that stomped on a weak field in the American League playoffs – but lost the series to San Francisco in seven games, or… The World Series champion Royals in 2015, who beefed up his base roster a bit, won the Central Division and had all the tools to play baseball today.
Either way, it’s deja vu.
Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” column appears in The Press three times a week. He also writes the Zags Tracker, a commentary on Gonzaga’s basketball that is published during the offseason and weekly beginning in October.
Steve invites you to take his advice in the spirit of a song by Jimmy Buffett: “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On”.