Casey at the Bat | M's Answering Questions, at Least For Now

Casey McLainSenior Analyst IApril 12, 2009

19 Sep 2001 : Edgar Martinez (L), Bret Boone and Jay Buhner (R) congratulate eachother after getting news that the Oakland A's lost to the Texas Rangers clinching the  American Western league Division title for the Mariners during the game at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. The Mariners won 5-0. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit : Otto Greule /Allsport

With Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn’s successes in the past week, a 5-2 record going into the Mariners home-opener, and both Endy Chavez and Yuniesky Betancourt hitting over .350, there is a ton of reason to be optimistic as an M’s fan.

In 2001 the Mariners came into the season with a lot of questions.

The team had just rid themselves of the last of the “power trio” that was Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez. With Rodriguez gone, the team looked to a speedy slap hitter and a lot of former role players to step up into new positions. Also, Raul Ibanez left Seattle before the 2001 season.

In perhaps Pat Gillick’s most impressive year as a general manager, a year when he needed to replace an eventual MVP, and unarguably the best offensive shortstop in baseball at the time, maybe ever, he did so with guys like Mark McLemore, Stan Javier, Brett Boone, and a seemingly endless list of former sendoffs from other franchises.

Seemingly every Mariner had a career year simultaneously. Guys like Mark McLemore had seasons, in their mid-30’s, that they had no business producing at that age compared to the back of their baseball card. McLemore had played the vast majority of his time, often in platoon roles, at second base. In Seattle he spent a lot of time in the outfield, and really anywhere else he was needed.

And one signing, Brett Boone, became the league’s best offensive second-baseman seemingly overnight, something he had no business doing either, and one that it appears can be explained better chemically than logically.

Boone though, and the McLemore’s and Javier’s of the world had seasons for which the production they created vastly outweighed the price rendered.

The Mariners had a lot of questions to answer going into this season, something I’ve explained as a positive for many of my close friends. Quite frankly, if there weren’t questions, the answer would be simple; the team would be destined for another 100-loss season.

Jack Zduriencik spent the entire offseason nabbing guys like Russell Branyan, Ronny Cedeno, Garrett Olson, and countless other underachievers, has-beens, and never-have-beens, all at liquidation prices.

The baseball season, better characterized as a marathon than a sprint, still has frequent cause for hyperbole during the season.

With that qualifier, it’s impossible to ignore that the team managed to squeeze out a win when Felix Hernandez pitched a mediocre game. Feeling familiar?

Seemingly every circumstance that could have gone right for the Mariners in 2001 did, perhaps the anti-Murphy’s-law.

It’s impossible to overlook the fact that while Chavez and Betancourt are far outplaying their career averages, at 5-2 the team has seen very little offensive contribution from Ken Griffey Jr., Wladimir Balentien, and Franklin Gutierrez. Something that’s sure to turn around to at least a moderate extent.

Ichiro has yet to lace up his cleats for a regular season game.

Jarrod Washburn, who I wrote about earlier in the week, could be primed for a very good season.

And Adrian Beltre, we all know what happened in his last contract year.

The AL West is more open than it has been in a half-decade, it could become the American League’s answer to the NL West, which on multiple occasions came close to sending the first losing team to the playoffs.

It’d be irresponsible to draw too many parallels with a 2001 season that saw the Mariners win as many games as any team in history, but in a league that’d heavy with talent across the Eastern Seaboard, the immortal words of Jay Buhner could begin to resonate as the season progresses, and if the M’s are able to remain competitive.

The words are looking more realistic.

“Screw the wildcard,” said Buhner in 1995, as recounted by Ken Griffey Jr. upon his first return to Seattle since the team traded him to Cincinnati.

Find more of Casey's work at 5th Quarter Sports.