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Chemistry class in Seattle

4/13/2009

The Mariners are 5-2, and Geoff Baker writes that new manager Don Wakamatsu likes the chemistry ...

    "The belief system started in spring training," he said. "I think guys look around the clubhouse and realize we have good chemistry but we also have some talented players. The rest is just, we've said it all along, we're going to take every game and just go out and play good baseball, good fundamental baseball. There are still a lot of things we need to improve on, but I'm proud of these guys and the way we got out of the gate."
    It's called accountability. Not to the media, necessarily, though that's part of the whole package and the team's veterans have made sure players aren't hiding in the training lounge after games. They don't want one guy having to answer for everybody else's mistakes the way Raul Ibanez used to last year. But as I said, it's part of the overall package [Jack] Zduriencik talked about. Players have to be accountable for their actions on the field and to the guy next to them. They have to pick up a teammate when they mess up and be counted upon to do the extra things when somebody else makes a mistake.

    Wakamatsu called it chemistry. Zduriencik called it trust. In spring training, they both talked about character.

    It all goes hand-in-hand with talent. Lots of teams have talent. Not all of them create the conditions that allow them to take advantage of that talent.

    This has been priority No. 1 for the Mariners this spring. Taking care of off-field issues and building the right environment to maximize talent. As Zduriencik told the players at the start of camp, the good baseball teams have equally high measures of talent and character.

    So far, the plan is working. But as I said -- and so have the Mariners -- there is still a long way to go in the 2009 season. Let's see how this first 10-game increment finishes off and talk after that.

We should definitely talk after that. But let's talk for a moment now, too.
I was fairly optimistic about the 2009 Mariners. Before the season I had them winning 77 games, which isn't bad. Actually, it's outstanding, considering that they lost 101 games last season.

I don't know if the M's will benefit this season from heightened accountability. I do know that teams, historically, have sometimes responded well to a new manager. I also know that Erik Bedard pitched like a Cy Young winner just two seasons ago, and that Felix Hernandez, if he's healthy, is going to pitch like a Cy Young winner at some point in the next two or three seasons.

So if we throw in a few extra wins for Wakamatsu and two strong seasons from Hernandez and Bedard, the Mariners are right around .500, and it's quickly becoming apparent that right around .500 has you in the mix of contenders in the American League West. At this point in the West -- and the same is true of the Central, by the way -- there's simply no such thing as a non-contender.