Posted March 27, 2012 on AP on Fox
The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics open the 2012 season in Japan in front of what is expected to be a lively and raucous crowd. The fans, however, might not have much offense to cheer about. The scheduled opening day starters for Wednesday morning at the Tokyo Dome - Seattle's Felix Hernandez and Oakland's Brandon McCarthy - both had overwhelming success in this series a year ago as the Mariners and Athletics possessed two of the league's worst offenses. Seattle enters this season after making few moves to improve an offense that was among the AL's worst since the implementation of the designated hitter. The Mariners, who finished 67-95, hit a franchise-worst .233, were shut out a team-record 16 times and finished with an MLB-low 556 runs. "I feel this should be the year we really take a significant step forward offensively. I'll be very disappointed if we don't," manager Eric Wedge said. "I don't really worry about that, because I'm very confident we will do that. That's how confident I am in our young people." Wedge will be counting on Mike Carp and Dustin Ackley to carry over impressive rookie performances and Jesus Montero to contribute immediately. Montero, acquired from the New York Yankees in January for promising right-hander Michael Pineda, hit .328 with four homers and 12 RBIs with a .996 OPS in 18 games after being called up last season. The Mariners are also hoping Ichiro Suzuki can bounce back from a disappointing 2011 and make a smooth transition into the No. 3 spot in the lineup. The Japanese star is eager to open the season in his native country after hitting a career-low .272 last year and failing to reach 200 hits for the first time in his 11 MLB seasons. "It's a new experience and it's definitely a different year," Suzuki said through an interpreter. "It's new for me. It's new for the team. This is something we'll have once in a lifetime. I look forward to that and hope to take advantage of it." While Seattle's offense was awful last season, Oakland's wasn't much better. The Athletics, who finished 74-88, hit .244 and finished with 645 runs, third-fewest in the AL. General manager Billy Beane appeared to add some punch to the lineup in the offseason, however, signing Manny Ramirez and outbidding a handful of other teams to sign Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes to a $36 million, four-year contract. Cespedes batted .458 with two homers and five RBIs in six games for Cuba in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, and hit .200 with a home run and two RBIs in eight spring training games. He is expected to start the opener in center field with Coco Crisp shifting to left. "With Cespedes and Manny possibly being middle-of-the-lineup type of guys, that can extend our lineup," said Crisp, who hit .264 last season - tied with Cliff Pennington for the team lead among qualifying players. "That's just going to make our lineup better." Ramirez, however, must sit out the first 50 games for a second violation of baseball's drug policy. While Oakland has high expectations for Cespedes, it would be understandable if he gets off to a slow start against Hernandez, who is 3-0 in four opening day starts. The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner wasn't as good in 2011, going 14-14 with a 3.47 ERA in 33 starts, but he was outstanding against Oakland. In four starts versus the A's, Hernandez went 3-0 with a 1.45 ERA, striking out 32 in 31 innings. The right-hander has made nine starts against the A's since his last loss - Sept. 19, 2008 - and is 11-2 with a 2.35 ERA in 17 games in the series since 2007. He yielded five hits and no walks in a complete-game 6-2 victory over Oakland in the 2011 season opener. The Mariners have won their last five openers, beating Oakland three times. McCarthy pitched almost as well as Hernandez in last season's series, but didn't enjoy the same good fortune. The right-hander recorded a 1.99 ERA and three complete games in four starts versus Seattle, but a lack of run support left him with a 1-3 record. Hernandez outdueled him in the Mariners' 1-0 win April 21. McCarthy, who is making his first opening day start, was 9-9 with a 3.32 ERA in 25 starts last season, his first with the A's. Following Thursday's conclusion of this two-game series in Japan, both teams have a week off before resuming the season April 6 in Oakland.
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