The idea that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” isn’t new by any means … I’m fairly certain it sold a bunch of dandruff shampoo, for one thing. It also doesn’t account for the sheer length of a baseball season, which has never been more superfluous.
For one thing, per-game and total MLB attendance peaked 12 years ago and has essentially been flat or down six seasons running. Plus, cutting the field from 30 teams to 10 hardly justifies six months of games.
You have to go back to 1999 — more than a decade before the second wild card made making October even easier — to find a season without a playoff team that opened 19-19 or worse. It’s downright common, which must be reassuring for any team that’s begun a season slow but managed to steady itself before the middle of May.
You know any teams like that?
“We’ve been patient. The results, obviously, we don’t want to be playing .500 right now, but we’re playing .500 right now,” manager Alex Cora said after Wednesday’s road trip-capping win in Baltimore. “I don’t want to say the season starts Friday, but, the season starts Friday.”
The symbolism is almost too easy. On Wednesday, the Red Sox won to square their record at 19-19. On Thursday, hours after Boston celebrated 2018 one final time with its White House visit, Seattle was two-hit by the Yankees, tumbling back to 20-20.
The Mariners visit Fenway for three games this weekend. Both teams are .500 and revisiting their meeting to begin the season.
In essence, it all begins again.
And it’s pretty clearly a better time to be the Red Sox than their visitors, who likely lost Dee Gordon on Thursday after New York’s J.A. Happ hit him in the wrist with a pitch. He was replaced by Dylan Moore, who had the same thing happen to him on Wednesday.
Seattle will need to shuffle its roster in the midst of a three-city Eastern trip, all while manager Scott Servais misses the games Friday and Saturday to attend his daughter’s graduation.
The teams convene Friday while moving in profoundly different directions. Seattle built off its opening series with the Sox to start 13-2 and are baseball’s worst team since, averaging barely four runs/game while its relief corps allows the highest home-run rate in baseball.
Domingo Santana, 6 for 16 with a pair of homers as the Mariners won 3 of 4, has just a .675 OPS during Seattle’s 7-18 slide. Tim Beckham, who had two others as well, has fanned 33 times in his last 89 plate appearances. Both are among the six regulars batting .226 or worse since the start.
Not that the pitching hasn’t been among MLB’s worst during this skid, which is notable given Boston’s struggles to deliver with runners in scoring position and to put games away on its 5-2 road trip. Felix Hernandez’s resurgence hit a significant road block in the Bronx on Monday, allowing seven runs in three innings; he’ll take a 7.43 ERA in his last five starts against the Sox into Saturday’s matinee against Rick Porcello. Seattle’s new ace, lefty Marco Gonzalez, goes Sunday aiming to improve on the Sox tagging him for nine hits in 5 ⅓ innings at T-Mobile Park.
On Friday, it’s Eduardo Rodriguez against rookie righty Erik Swanson, who one-hit Cleveland for six innings on Sunday for his first MLB victory.
“If you wanted to nitpick Swanson’s outing, his efficiency of putting away hitters with two strikes was a little lacking at times,” wrote the Seattle Times’ Ryan Divish. “He doesn’t have the plus-level stuff of some other pitchers, including the wipeout breaking pitch. He worked ahead frequently, but several hitters spoiled two-strike pitches with foul balls, driving up the pitch count in a less than ideal fashion. But it was still six shutout innings and the Mariners will happily take that in any given start.”
All told, it’s a tremendous opportunity for the Red Sox to maintain their momentum before the schedule toughens — Colorado and Houston to end the homestand, then Houston-Cleveland-Yankees to finish the month.
They’d be smart not to waste it. No one gets a third chance at a first impression.