Wednesday, March 30, 2011

MARINERS: Season preview

Ah… spring in Seattle. Around this time of year, Hikers, tulips, and cyclers, begin to crawl out of the winter shadows. But most importantly, at least on the sports side of things, baseball season begins.

Every Spring Training, fans of losing teams have this hope that somehow their team can pull a complete turnaround, and that’s no different with the Mariners.

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The M’s have a reputation of performing decent when there’s no expectations (2009), but seem to crumble whenever there’s a pressure to win (2008, 2010). So, with really no pressure to succeed this season, I believe the Mariners can have a decent year… or at least not lose 101 games. Something around 65-72 wins is realistic for this young, developing team.

Just like I did during football season with the Seahawks, I’ll be giving a “grade” for each aspect of the team every month or so. That way, we can see the progression of the team and check if their numbers/performance are improving or not.

Pre-season grades

Hitting: D+ Alright, so here’s the deal. I tried to come up with reasons on how the offense vastly improved this offseason, but couldn’t. The Mariners signed Jack Cust, who hit a measly .240 last year along with 19 homers. They also signed Miguel Olivo, who probably won’t hit more than .250 at the most. Brendan Ryan could potentially be a nice addition, as he hit .292 in 2009 but dropped off in 2010 by hitting .233.

Whether the Mariners can hit well is going to rely on bounce-back seasons from some veterans, most notably Milton Bradley. Bradley at his best is a .300-25 homer hitter, but has derailed himself by stupid decisions off the field. Eric Wedge gave Milton the nod at left field, but if Bradley goes down the same personal road as last season, expect Michael Saunders to replace him.

Let’s hope for the best.

Another key bounce-back player is Chone Figgins, who is a .292 career hitter, but regressed last season by hitting .259. Figgy started his career is Seattle by hitting under .220 at the All-
Star break, which can’t happen again if the Mariners wish to succeed.

Defense: A- The Mariners strong suit. Ichiro and Franklin Gutierrez are gold glove outfielders, while SS Jack Wilson and 3B Chone Figgins are lightning quick and worthy of gold gloves, which is mainly a popularity contest. 2B Brendan Ryan and C Miguel Olivo are average with their gloves, which is alright from your second baseman and catcher.

The reason for the A- and not an A+ is for Milton Bradley’s and Justin Smoak’s paltry defense. But, left field and first base is usually were teams put their defensively challenged players, so it’s all good.

Starting Pitching: B+ Another area of strength for the Mariners. I mean, when you have AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez, I can’t give that bad of a grade. Besides the King, there’s also Jason Vargas (3.78 ERA, 116 strikeouts) and Doug Fister (4.11 ERA, 93 Strikeouts). Those guys aren’t amazing, but get the job done.

What REALLY causes me to give a B+ grade is the 4 and 5 starters, Erik Bedard and Michael Pineda. You all know about Bedard and his situation. Seattle traded for him, he never stayed healthy, and became a joke among Mariners fans. But Bedard is back, and looking better than ever. The former Oriole is tore up hitters in spring training, finishing with a dazzling 1.13 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 16 innings.

Pineda is a bit of a wildcard. He came into spring training with the goal of beating out the likes of Luke French, David Pauley, and Garret Olson for the final spot in the rotation. Pineda didn’t beat out his teammates for the spot…

He creamed them.

The much heralded prospect stormed through spring training, smoking hitters with his 97 MPH fastball and his improved control. He finished with a 2.17 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 17 innings this spring.

Expect to see some good pitching.

Bullpen: D Yikes. This area of the team is absolutely horrific. I’m cringing even writing about this unorganized mess.

David Aardsma, the team’s primary closer, is going to be out for a couple of weeks. So where does that leave manger Eric Wedge? Well, Wedge will likely have to go with tattooed up Brandon League, who can be great one night, but completely dysfunctional the next. Prepare for a few 9th inning losses to start the season, Mariners fans.

After League, the bullpen becomes a jumbled mess of unproved young guys and wandering veterans. No one at this point has a clue who will be the 8th inning guy will be.

To make matters worse, Eric Bedard, as good as he’s been, just recovered from surgery and will tire easily. The Mariners have said they’re going to keep Pineda on a strict pitch count, so I would be surprised if he gets past the 6th inning on a regular basis. If these two pitchers get pulled out early, and Mariners bullpen is required to put in some extra work, trouble could arise.

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