Although the Seattle Mariners have burst out to a 6-1 Cactus League start after defeating the San Francisco Giants 4-3 Thursday, it’s way too early for the sort of gaga reaction encouraged by sports talk radio. Spring training games are, as baseball author Art Hill once observed, exercises written in the sand and have little bearing on what a season holds – as Mariners history emphatically informs us.
In their 36 years of largely feeble existence, the Mariners had a winning record during spring training 10 times, first time in 1984 (14-13), last time in 2012 (16-9-1). In all but two of those seasons – 1991 (17-13) and 1993 (16-14) – the Mariners finished with a losing record.
Even the winning records in 1991 and 1993 came with regular-season letdowns: The 1991 team went 83-79 but finished fifth in the division, while the 1993 club went 82-80 and languished in fourth place.
In none of the 10 seasons that began with a winning record in spring training did the Mariners finish higher than third in their division. The last three times the Mariners had a winning spring record – 2004 (18-10), 2011 (16-13) and 2012 (16-9-1), they finished fourth and last each time, a combined 87 games out of first place.
Foraging further into the weeds, Seattle’s six-game spring winning streak is the club’s longest since 2004, which fueled premature pennant talk. That team, the last for which Edgar Martinez played, lost 99 games despite 262 hits by Ichiro.
Then consider this: The Mariners have appeared in the postseason four times – 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2001, when the team won a franchise-record 116 games. In none of those years did the Mariners begin the season with a winning record in spring training.
The 1995 club went 5-8 in the strike-shortened spring and won the division with a record of 79-66. The 1997 team went 16-16 in the spring and finished the regular season 90-72 (quickly eliminated by Mike Mussina and the Orioles in the playoffs). The 2000 club, a wild card entry into the postseason, went 13-16 in the spring and 91-71 in the regular season. The amazing 2001 club finished 13-19 in Arizona as a prelude to 116 victories.
10 Winning Springs, 8 Losing Records
|Year||Manager||Spring Rec.||Reg. Season||Finish|
While spring training is an omen of nothing, April provides the surest sign of how the season will play out. Since 1996, the Mariners have had a winning April seven times, most recently in 2009 (13-9). Seattle finished with a winning record in each of those seasons.
Over the same 16-year span (since 1996), the Mariners have had 10 Aprils at or below .500. In nine of those seasons, the Mariners finished with a losing record (the 2007 Mariners went 10-10 in April and finished 88-74).
A 6-1 Cactus League start is obviously better than the reverse, but it is indicative of nothing — unless you have three hours to fill on a talk show.