4/3/2014 11:18 A.M. ET
Fast starts are crucial for confidence of young clubs
Mariners (3-0), Astros (2-0) and White Sox (2-0) setting positive foundation
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
Starts matter. Of course they do.
For some more than others -- for instance, if a team has endured a tough couple of seasons. Right away, a good start can set a different tone, send a message that all the talk during Spring Training about new beginnings wasn't just hot air.
The Seattle Mariners needed this 3-0 record. The Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox are 2-0, and with all their changes and youth and all their planning for the future, it's great to allow the kids to experience the vibe of a winning clubhouse.
The Tigers needed 2-0, too. With Brad Ausmus taking over for Jim Leyland, with Prince Fielder gone, Detroit probably needed this little bit of positive reinforcement here at the start of things.
First, the Mariners: They're the best story of these first few days after a road sweep of the Angels. Now, they head to Oakland for four games and a chance to keep it going. Regardless, 3-0 is important.
Even after adding Robinson Cano, Logan Morrison, Fernando Rodney and Corey Hart, plenty of people thought Seattle still wasn't good enough. There didn't seem to be enough starting pitching behind King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma, and with Iwakuma beginning the season on the disabled list, there could have been a "here-we-go-again" feeling, both in the clubhouse and the stands.
So the Mariners sprinted out of the gate with three victories over the Halos, thanks in large part to great work by young starters James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez.
This is a nice boost for Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik and new manager Lloyd McClendon. Zduriencik has done terrific work building a first-rate player development system, but he has taken some shots the past couple of years, as those young players haven't turned into overnight stars.
Their development is a reminder that young players don't come with guarantees; that they don't all develop at the same pace, and in the end, they don't all make it. No matter how much money the Mariners spent on free agents, they were always going to rise and fall based on the progress (or lack of progress) of their best young talent.
Cano gives the Mariners a giant presence in the middle of the lineup and has a chance to help the guys around him. In the end, though, the kids have to be all right for Seattle to succeed.
That's why this 3-0 start has to be especially encouraging. Justin Smoak is hitting .462 with a couple of homers in three games. Shortstop Brad Miller is at .333 and also has a pair of home runs. Dustin Ackley (.364) and Mike Zunino (.333) are likewise off to good starts.
Three games is only a tiny percentage of a baseball season, but they do matter. Here's a story about that.
One year, the Cardinals were picked to finish down in the division race. Their manager, Tony La Russa, thrived on being discounted. He preached all spring to his players about simply playing the season one inning at a time. In effect, La Russa was telling them to trust the process. Make good pitches. Make all the defensive plays.
Those messages sound so simple, but they keep players from thinking about the big picture and what the outside world thinks. When I saw the Cards early in the season, La Russa was preaching that message of progress every single day.
When I saw the Cardinals again three or four months later, they'd undergone a tremendous transformation. They were running away with the National League Central and had the confidence of a championship team.
There's no question that in those very first games, something lasting was being built. Had the Cards been unable to get off to a good start, their confidence could have been shaken, and who knows how it would have played out.
So, yes, 3-0 is an important development for the Mariners. It's important for the White Sox and Astros, too. For young players to see that energy and attitude can translate into even more positives is a strong message.
Likewise, tough starts can rip at the fabric of a team. The last thing the Angels needed was another bad start. After starting 11-22 in 2013 and 6-14 in '12, the Halos had hoped to ride an overhauled pitching staff and a rejuvenated Albert Pujols into contention.
Maybe 0-3 is not a killer, because the Angels have so many veteran players, but it's a disappointing way to begin. The Yankees have received some bad signs in their 0-2 start. CC Sabathia didn't build on his nice spring the way he'd hoped, and the new lineup hasn't done much yet.
Again, though, the Yanks are a veteran team. They'll grind on. Whether they're good enough is the larger question, but that probably won't be answered for weeks, if not months.
For the Mariners and Astros and White Sox, these first few days probably matter more. Little positives can become important bricks in the wall. And that's why starts do matter.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.