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Saturday, August 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports

Grip on Sports: Is the early season success for the Sounders and Mariners built on a firm foundation or quicksand?

Mexico national team member Carlos Vela, pictured in a 2018 World Cup match against South Korea, scored two goals to help LAFC defeat the Seattle Sounders on April 21, 2019. (Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press)
Mexico national team member Carlos Vela, pictured in a 2018 World Cup match against South Korea, scored two goals to help LAFC defeat the Seattle Sounders on April 21, 2019. (Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • After watching the somewhat-local professional soccer team play yesterday, it hit me. The regional pro teams competing this summer have great records. But they may be something of a fraud. Read on.

••••••••••

• No one wants to overreact to a couple losses. Even a 4-1 loss in an MLS match. After all, it was on the road and the Sounders were missing a couple of key components.

Yet the defeat at the hands of LAFC, Seattle’s first loss of the young season, made me wonder if the Sounders’ fast start was a bit of a mirage. Maybe it’s because I feel the same way about the Mariners – and there is a bit of projecting going on.

Look, no one is upset the M’s are 16-9, the best record in the American League. Or that the Sounders have garnered 16 points in just seven matches, good enough for third in the Western Conference.

Those are good things.

But if you delve a bit deeper, the Seattle success isn’t as pure as one might think.

The Mariners have played three teams that can be considered World Series contenders: The Red Sox, the Astros and, because they play in the A.L. Central, the Indians.

Seattle's record in the 10 games against them: 3-7. And all three of those wins came against Boston, the defending champion playing more like an also-ran to start the 2019 season.

The M’s have feasted on the dregs of the American League. The Angels, the Royals, the White Sox are all well under the .500 mark and not expected to rise much above it.

Then again, that was the expectation of Seattle as well.

But that’s all about to change one way or another. After a two-game series in San Diego, the Mariners return home to kick off a series of games, over the next few weeks, against the Rangers, the Cubs, the Indians (again), the Yankees, the Red Sox, the A’s and the Twins. If they are still kicking rear and taking names after a 24-game stretch that ends May 19, then we can concede they are actual contenders.

Which would be a step forward, not, as Jerry Dipoto labeled this season, “a step back.”

As for the Sounders, despite yesterday’s blowout in Los Angeles, they can be considered contenders. Sure their first six matches included FC Cincinnati, Colorado and Vancouver, all off to slow starts, but they also defeated Toronto FC, which is probably the best team in the Eastern Conference.

There seems to be a little more “there,” there when it comes to the Sounders.

Not that the roster couldn’t be upgraded a bit. It could. But this time of year is when MLS squads decide if they are contenders and what it might take to actually win a cup or two.

If the answer is positive, it’s time to start lining up reinforcements for the transfer windows.

That’s where Seattle stands. The franchise has shown it won’t stand pat. It can’t, not this season, not if it wants to separate itself from the rest of the MLS. Not if it doesn’t want to take “a step back.”

• The deadline to declare for the NBA Draft crept up as everyone in the west was preparing to watch the Easter episode of Game of Thrones. And just before the clock struck midnight back east, Killian Tillie threw his hat in the ring.

It’s really smart. For guys like Tillie and Zach Norvell Jr., making themselves eligible for the draft starts a process that is more of an evaluation than anything else.

They get to showcase their game to professional scouts in a different way, receive feedback about strengths and weaknesses and are not obligated to make a choice until the end of May. For a month they immerse themselves in their future profession and then, if they don’t like their grades, head back to school for another year.

Are Tillie and Norvell first-round draft picks? Probably not. If that were the case, then leaving Gonzaga behind would be a no-brainer, as it is for Rui Hachimura and more-than-likely Brandon Clarke.

But the most-recent entries are less likely to hear such positive feedback, if they are listening to the right people. The choice is probably not between the NBA and Gonzaga but between the G League or overseas and GU.

Or, to put it in more basic terms, between being paid or developing your game. It’s not easy to take huge strides as a player in basketball’s minor leagues. In most cases, there is more chance of building a resume and refining skills at the college level.

It’s a tough choice. Making the right decision takes sober thinking and dispassionate logic. It’s what the next month is for.

•••

WSU: Around the Pac-12, with spring football over at Oregon, it’s time to look forward to the fall. … The same can be said for Utah.

Gonzaga: Jim Meehan covers the Tillie decision with this story. … Elsewhere in the WCC, can BYU develop an international pipeline?

EWU: Vernon Adams was an electric talent for the Eagles He finished his college career elsewhere, but seems to visit Cheney often. Ryan Collingwood talked with him while he was in town recently and offers this Q&A.

Mariners: The M’s will have games in which they give up eight runs, like Sunday. What was encouraging were the five runs Seattle put on the board in the top of the ninth. The Mariners had the tying run at the plate. The Angels held on for the 8-6 victory. … This is a fun read. … An opener is coming to Seattle soon. … Gene Warnick has the daily Out of Right Field summary.

Seahawks: The Hawks take risks in the draft. Will they do the same this year?

•••       

• Wasn’t yesterday beautiful? Wait, you could be reading this in the Antarctic, so that may not be true for you. It was around here, though. The best day of 2019. Warm, sunny and clear. No excuse to sit inside and watch golf or baseball or soccer. But we did anyway. Heck, it’s our job. (Insert LOL Emoji here.) Until later …

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