Originally written February 20, 2013 on isportsweb.com:
The Seattle Mariners continued to improve under manager Eric Wedge in his second season in 2012.  Seattle went from 67-95 in 2011 to 75-87 in 2012, an eight game improvement.  They still finished in last place from having the misfortune of being in the loaded A.L. West.  Every team in the A.L. West won at least 89 games, with the A’s and Rangers both making it to the Postseason. The Mariners were once again lead by their pitching, which was the highlight of their 2012 season.  Felix Hernandez was once again near the top of A.L. pitchers, highlighted by the first perfect game in Seattle Mariners’ history when he beat the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 on August 15th.  Seattle, who hadn’t thrown a no-hitter since Chris Bosio in 1993, had two on the season as six pitchers combined to no-hit the Dodgers on June 8th, tying the MLB record for most pitchers used in a combined no-hitter. Going into 2013, there is good news and bad news.  The Houston Astros are moving into the A.L. West, which should snap the Mariners’ streak of three straight last place A.L. West finishes and four of the last five.  The bad news is the A.L. West is looks to be top heavy again with the A’s emerging last season and the Angels adding Josh Hamilton to a line-up that already had Albert Pujols.  In the offseason, the Mariners have addressed their offensive needs adding Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, Mike Morse, and Kendrys Morales. 3 Up                                                                      Best Case Scenario for 2013 The Mariners need to continue to improve under Eric Wedge.  Even if the playoffs are missed again, Seattle needs to get over the .500 mark.  The Mariners’ front office made the commitment taking risky steps to bolster the offense.  They sent the team’s No. 2 starter, Jason Vargas, to the Angels for Kendrys Morales.  They’ve also went all-in as Jesus Montero in the catcher spot, failing to re-sign Miguel Olivo and trading John Jaso to Oakland in a three-team deal that ended up bringing Mike Morse back to Seattle. Most Important Mariners From the plate, it has to be Kendrys Morales.  Not only did Seattle lose their No. 2 pitcher, they sent him to a division rival.  Morales has to make an impact on offense.  Coming back from injury in 2011, Morales batted .273 in 134 games with 22 HR and 73 RBI.  22 HRs last season would’ve been good enough to put him in the lead of all Mariners batters. We know Felix Hernandez is going to be lights out, so the most important pitcher going into 2013 is Hisashi Iwakuma.  The rotation has already lost two starters, Vargas and Kevin Millwood.  Iwakuma looks like the de facto No. 2 going into Spring Training.  In his last 10 starts of 2012, he went 7-2 including 5-2 against the A.L. West.  He needs to keep his hot hand for the Mariners to improve in 2013. After some struggles at the plate in his first full season, the Seattle Mariners are looking for a bounce back 2013 from Dustin Ackley. Potential Breakout Players The Mariners are counting on a better 2013 from Dustin Ackley.  In his first full season, his numbers dropped at the plate and he end up having surgery at the end of the season (removing a bone spur from his left ankle).  Seattle is expecting to see the 2011 version on Ackley when he was called up: .273-6 HR-36 RBI.  Despite struggling in Tacoma last season, top prospect Danny Hultzen could win a rotation spot.  The Mariners have had good luck with this kind of move before, as Michael Pineda broke onto the scene in 2011 after having no major league experience.  In double AA, he was lights out going 8-3 with a 1.19 ERA in 13 starts striking out 79 in 75.1 IP. 3 Down Worst Case Scenario For the Mariners, a bad 2013 means no progress.  For the first time in a long time, the starting rotation is a big question mark going into the season.  If the pitching struggles and the new bats fail to produce, Seattle could backslide from the 75 win mark they hit last season and, worst case scenario, flirt with a fourth straight last place A.L. West finish.        Areas of Concern Less than two weeks before Spring Training and the starting rotation is filled out as follows: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Blake Beavan, then who knows?  And, not to pick on Iwakuma and Beavan, but although they were hot down the stretch, neither had full seasons in the rotaton.  Iwakuma was in the bullpen for the first half of the season, and Beavan was sent to Tacoma, at one point.  And, the Mariners definitely needed to improve their offense but they now have 10 players for 5 spots (OF/1B/DH): Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales, Jason Bay, Mike Carp, Franklin Gutierrez, Raul Ibanez, Mike Morse, Michael Saunders, Eric Thames, and Casper Wells.  Someone is going to be unhappy with their playing time or underutilized.  The Mariners have a lot of good players to juggle. Who Needs to Bounce Back From a Down 2012 The Mariners are looking for a bounce back season from Jason Bay.  After coming as a free agent to the Mets, Bay didn’t live up to his potential.  Although it doesn’t seem he’ll regain his 2009 form (36 HR-119 RBI), a proven bat can only help the Mariners young offense.  Seattle will also be looking from a bounce back season from Hector Noesi.  Part of the Montero-Pineda trade, Noesi started the year in the rotation only to go 2-12 with a 5.82 ERA.  With the Mariners being low on starting pitchers, Noesi might be asked upon for better production in 2013.
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