Photo Credit: Itsuo Inouye/Associated Press
Since a first-place finish in the 2001 season, the Seattle Mariners have rarely sniffed first place in the A.L. West over the last decade, grabbing a pair of second-place finishes in that time frame. Is this the season that things change?
With the Rangers and Angels having effectively dominated the division over the last decade, baseball fans in the Pacific Northwest have been yearning for their Mariners to field a team capable of winning the division and making a run in the post-season.
Recent history suggests that this season could be another long one, given the fact Seattle has finished last in the division in six of the last eight campaigns.
The Mariners got off to a decent start in 2011, going 28-26 into the month of June, but a summer swoon (including a 17-game losing skid) sent the team back to the basement when all was said and done at 67-95.
So, what has to happen in 2012 for the Mariners under manager Eric Wedge to once again be a force to contend with in the American League and give their fans something to cheer about?
For starters, Mariners’ fans will have to hope that the arrival of Albert Pujols in Anaheim does not serve as a forbearer of bad things to come for the rest of the A.L. West.
With the off-season signing of the former St. Louis first baseman, one of the most feared hitters in the game and a future Hall-of-Famer, the Angels on paper appear to be the frontrunner to win the division. As we all know, however, titles are not won on paper.
Offensive woes from 2011 must disappear
The 2012 edition of the Mariners will look to improve upon last season’s 67-win performance, a season in which the M’s scored a paltry 556 runs, the fewest in the A.L.
In order to address those offensive deficiencies, including a team OBP that was under .300 a season ago, Seattle went out in the off-season and inked young talent and likely DH regular Jesus Montero, dealing pitching talent Michael Pineda in the process. I like the addition of Montero into the offense, but will the cost of dealing a “potential” regular 15 to 20-game winner in Pineda be worth it?
Even though time may slowly be catching up with hitting sensation Ichiro, the man is still one of the most feared hitters (minus the long ball) in baseball.
Despite a 2011 campaign that saw him finish with an under .300 batting average, the future Hall-of-Famer is still the face of the team both on and off the field. That being said, Ichiro will need to return to his prior form to help the team increase its run total from last season. If for no other reason than pride, I expect Ichiro to be back sniffing a .300 or better average for much of the season.
The M’s will also need to get more of an effort both physically and mentally from infielder Chone Figgins, who has laid an egg in his two years removed from the Angels.
Whether it is his skills or his mindset of perhaps not wanting to play in Seattle, Figgins needs to take some of the pressure off of an aging Ichiro to get on base and create runs for the M’s this season.
The M’s will also look to the likes of Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp, Justin Smoak and Franklin Gutierrez among others to put up at least respectable numbers on the offensive side of things.
Hernandez and then who on the mound?
On the pitching side of things, you pretty much know what you will get from ace Felix Hernandez, given his performances in recent seasons.
That then begs the question, who will step up to fill out the rotation so that the M’s have a solid chance to win each outing that King Felix is not on the mound?
The arms of Jason Vargas, Hisashi Iwakuma, Hector Noesi and newly acquired Kevin Millwood will be among those counted upon to give Seattle a formidable rotation, along with a chance to win games where it does not have to score a ton of runs on a regular basis. With Brandon League holding down the closer position, Seattle will look to get enough out of its starters to get League the ball and the lead going into the ninth.
Is this the year to challenge the Rangers and Angels?
So, are the Mariners a serious threat to challenge the Rangers and Angels for A.L. West supremacy this summer?
My guess is no, but then again, nothing is a lock in the world of Major League Baseball.
Seattle lost a formidable arm for the next decade in dealing Pineda. While Hernandez is Hernandez, question marks still abound with the rest of the rotation. Also, should the offense struggle again this season as it did in 2011, opponents will just need to plate a few runs to have a good chance of dealing the M’s losses.
On the bright side for Wedge and the M’s, expectations will likely be rather low this season, especially given all the hype in Anaheim with the Pujols arrival, and the fact that Texas has won the A.L. pennant two seasons in a row.
If things fall into place in the Pacific Northwest, the M’s could quietly be in contention for a wild card spot when all is said and done.
Given how recent seasons have unfolded for the fans at Safeco Field that would not be the end of the world.
Dave’s prediction – Third place in A.L. West (75-87).
Dave Thomas, who covers among other topics how to start a small business, writes extensively for SanDiego-based Business.com, an online resource destination for businesses of all sizes to research, find, and compare the products and services they need to run their businesses.