Now that the Seattle Mariners have snapped the longest postseason drought in the four major professional sports, they are hungry for more.
The Mariners, who will play host to the Cleveland Guardians in their season opener Thursday, made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2001.
They defeated Toronto in the American League’s wild-card round before being swept by eventual World Series champion Houston Astros in the division series, with the finale decided by a 1-0 margin in 18 innings.
Now the Mariners have their sights set on breaking another slump: They are the lone team among MLB’s 30 franchises to have never reached the World Series.
“Along with that are expectations. They get a little bit higher,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said of getting over the playoff hurdle. “I’ve said it early on and I’ll keep saying it, ‘That’s a good thing.’ We broke through the playoff drought in Seattle so the expectations are naturally much higher, which is a great thing. They should be higher.
“We have a very good team. We now have a team that has some postseason experience. We’ve got some young players that are continuing to get better. We’ve acquired some new players that are going to help us along the way. There’s a lot going in the right direction.”
AL Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez is the face of the franchise, and the Mariners boast one of the strongest starting rotations in the game. They added All-Star outfielder Teoscar Hernandez in a trade with Toronto and Gold Glove second baseman Kolten Wong from Milwaukee. They also signed two former All-Stars to platoon/backup roles in outfielder AJ Pollock and infielder Tommy La Stella.
Right-hander Luis Castillo, acquired by Seattle at last summer’s trade deadline from Cincinnati, is scheduled to start the opener. He went a combined 8-6 with 2.99 ERA for both teams last season and is 1-3 with a 5.04 ERA in six career starts against Cleveland.
Castillo isn’t taking the Opening Day start lightly.
“I think it’s something that every starter kind of works for,” Castillo said. “It’s something that they want. I’m thankful for Seattle to give me this opportunity. And it also lets me know that they have the confidence to start me in that big situation.”
The Guardians are set to send former AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber (13-8, 2.88 ERA last season) to the mound for the fourth consecutive Opening Day. The right-hander is 1-2 with a 3.19 ERA in five career starts against Seattle.
Bieber went 2-0 with 1.54 ERA in five spring-training starts but wasn’t satisfied.
“It’s the athlete’s curse or the pitcher’s curse,” Bieber said after allowing one run in 6 2/3 innings and striking out 11 in his last spring start Saturday against Colorado. “I guess I’m just perpetually frustrated. …You’re always trying to get better.”
Like Seattle, Cleveland’s season ended in the AL Division Series last year.
The Guardians surprised by winning the AL Central title with the youngest team in baseball. Now they’re focusing on winning their first World Series since 1948.
They added some power in the offseason in switch-hitting first baseman Josh Bell and catcher Mike Zunino to give AL Manager of the Year Terry Francona a few more weapons.
“The way we played last year, we had to play a pretty clean game,” Francona said. “If that’s the way it is, I’m OK with that. Just know that if someone hits a three-run homer every once in a while, it makes it easier.”
–Field Level Media