Mar 212013
 

Weekly preview of each of the Rangers’ American League West rivals for the 2013 season – from the bottom up.

  1. Seattle Mariners
  2. Houston Astros

Breaking Down the West   Seattle Mariners   Moving the fences in...The Mariners look forward to the arrival of the Astros in the American League West with the hope of getting out of last place for the first time in the last three years.  The Mariners took some positive steps during the offseason, including securing one of the best pitchers in the game to a long-term contract, but it won’t be enough to overcome Oakland, Anaheim or Texas.

This is a team with young talented players at some key positions in “King” Felix Hernandez (SP), Dustin Ackley (2B), Jesus Montero (C/DH), Kyle Seager (3B), Michael Saunders (RF) and the freshly drafted Mike Zunino (C).  Couple the young talent with some veterans sprinkled in and we should see the Mariners improve upon their 77-85 mark from 2012.  By how much is the question…

The Bats & Gloves

This lineup has some holes in it, but if a few of these guys can take a step in the right direction, it’s a lineup that could greatly improve over last year’s performance.

Projected Lineup

  1. Dustin Ackley, 2B
  2. Franklin Gutierrez, CF
  3. Kyle Seager, 3B
  4. Michael Morse, LF
  5. Kendrys Morales, DH
  6. Jesus Montero, C
  7. Justin Smoak, 1B
  8. Michael Saunders, RF
  9. Brendan Ryan, SS

I don’t think Manager Eric Wedge has unveiled his official Opening Day lineup, but it should look similar to what’s above, barring injury.  There are three bats in this lineup that peak my interest:

  • Breaking Down the West   Seattle Mariners   Moving the fences in...Dustin Ackley was less than impressive last year (.226/.294/.328) and MUST take a major step in 2013 for this lineup to have success.  Keep in mind that he is still only 25 years old, but as the table-setter, the Mariners will be depending on him to get on base at a higher rate than .294.
  • Kyle Seager is an impressive young player (also only 25) who I secretly admire.  In his first full season last year, Seager put up a pretty respectable line (.259/.316/.423) with many of his metrics improving in the second half.  I think Seager will improve further in 2013 and be an important part of this lineup’s run production.
  • In mid-December, the Mariners shipped the frustrating Jason Vargas to the Angels for Kendrys Morales who just didn’t have a spot in the Angel’s stacked lineup.  It was one of those rare intra-division trades that addressed a need for both teams at the major league level.  I loved this trade for the Mariners.  Morales has has been hindered by injury and lack of playing time over the last two seasons, but it wasn’t that long ago (2009) that he finished 5th in the AL MVP voting (.306/.355/.569) and was the centerpiece of the Angel’s lineup.  Can he return to that form?  He’s only 29 years old, and I could see the change of scenery and opportunity to play ever day get him close.

Defensively, the Mariners are good, as the mantra of “pitching and defense” is still part of their identity.  They only committed 72 errors in 2012 (2nd best in AL) and had the second highest Defensive Efficiency rating in the American League.

The middle of the lineup may get some help from the fences moving in, but remember…that works both ways.

The Arms

The Mariners have something that we Ranger fans have coveted for a long, long time…a true Ace.  Perhaps one of the more upsetting off-season occurrences that didn’t directly involve the Rangers was the contract extension between the Mariners and King Felix which will keep Hernandez in Seattle through 2019.

Quick – who were the other four starters for Seattle last year?

I gave you Vargas, so that doesn’t count, and you probably thought of former-Ranger prospect Blake Beavan.  Do either of those guys do much for you?  Me neither, but the Mainers pitching staff was pretty good in 2012 when compared to the rest of the American League:

  • 4th in team ERA in AL at 3.76
  • 3rd in team WHIP in AL at 1.241

So, this is what a pitcher’s park and King Felix will get you.

Projected Rotation

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Hisashi Iwakuma
  3. Joe Saunders
  4. Blake Beavan
  5. Brandon Mauer – this spot is still an open competition, but Mauer’s got my vote. Erasmo Ramirez was probably the favorite to win the spot (ala Martin Perez) and could still win the spot (ala not Martin Perez).

Breaking Down the West   Seattle Mariners   Moving the fences in...Can Hisashi Iwakuma be a legit #2?  There is no doubt in my mind that he can if he isn’t already.  Last year’s performance was good, but take a closer look – he was great at the end of the season.  Keep in mind 2012 was his first season in MLB, so the inconsistencies near the beginning of the season can be dismissed as part of his “adjustment period”.  In August and September, Iwakuma posted a 7-3 record with an ERA in the low 2′s.  I think he’s adjusted and gives the Mariners a nice 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation.

The Pen

The bullpen is fair, anchored by Tom Wilhelmson who assumed the closing duties last year and converted 29 saves on 24 opportunities.  Bullpens are generally boring.

The Manager

Eric Wedge.  Enough said.  Nothing special.  Career 703-755 managerial record with Indians and Mariners.

The Bottom Line

In my opinion, the Mariners could push for 3rd place in the American League West, but I think a 4th place finish is more likely.

IF…the the lineup can get consistency from some of the youngsters (Ackley, Montero, Smoak).  IF…the back-end of the rotation can be average.  IF…they can stay healthy.  Three big IF’s, but it could happen.

  • Best case: 84-78 record behind the emergence of Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero as legit major league all-star caliber players.
  • Worst case: 77-85…again…hey, they have King Felix.

Up next…you can probably figure it out from here.


Side note – we are close to two weeks away from the 2nd Annual Baseball Do Field Trip.  We still have tickets available.  If you want to go and your want your shirt to be ready for the Field Trip,  you need to order your tickets by next Wednesday at the latest.

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Feb 142012
 

2012 American League West by Position (Part 3)Be sure to check out Round 1 (IF and C) and Round 2 (OF & DH) of the 2012 American League West Position Rankings if you missed them.

Score at the end of Round 2:

  1. Rangers: 35
  2. Angels: 31
  3. Athletics: 15
  4. Mariners: 14

We’ll be ranking the benches and the managers for each of the AL West squads in this round, which will be handled a little differently from how we have handled the individual positions so far.

Bench

For benches, we are looking at the quality, depth and flexibility and we’ll have one rankings for the entire team.  While the bench for a team, in it’s entirety, may not play the equivalent of a full 9 innings every game, I feel that it’s still more valuable than just one player.  Given the flexibility and strategic advantage that a strong bench can provide to a team, we are going to double the points awarded in this section.

  1. 2012 American League West by Position (Part 3)Kendry Morales/Mark Trumbo, Bobby Abreu, Cesar Izturis, Hank Conger, Mike Trout/Peter Bourjos – LAA
  2. Craig Gentry/Julio Borbon/Leonys Martin, David Murphy, Yorvit Torrealba, Brad Hawpe – TEX
  3. Mike Carp, Alex Liddi, Adam Moore, Casper Wells, Michael Saunders – SEA
  4. Daric Barton, Eric Sogard, Chris Carter, Kila Ka’aihue, Collin Cowgill – OAK

This is a close one as both the Angels and Rangers have some flexibility with their bench and some starts, but the Angels take the pole here as they have the best two quality players overall in whoever isn’t starting at DH between and Morales and Trumbo and whoever isn’t starting in CF between Trout and Bourjos.

2012 American League West by Position (Part 3)The Rangers have flexibilty with their starters at every infield position (Young & Napoli in mix with starters), CF and DH (Napoli and others with Younger considered starter) which amplifies the role that the bench players can play on a day-to-day basis.  They clearly outpace the Mariners and Athletics, but fall short of the Angels primarily based on the quality of the players that would make the most impact off of the bench more often.

Manager

Similar to the bench, I feel like the manager rankings have to account for more than just the equivalent of one starter.  Considering the impact that the manager can have on every game, we will be doubling the scoring in this section as well.

  1. 2012 American League West by Position (Part 3)Ron Washington, TEX
  2. Mike Scioscia, LAA
  3. Eric Wedge, SEA
  4. Bob Melvin, OAK
It’s hard to go against managing a World Series winner (Scioscia in 2002) and twice being named the American League Manager of the Year (Scioscia in 2002 & 2009), but when looking forward to 2012, Ron Washington is the best Manager in the American League West.  Washington has managed his team to the World Series in both the last two seasons and finished in the top three of AL Manager of the Year voting over the last three seasons.

In 2012, both managers go into the season with an increased level of expectations and some new stars/phenoms to work with – Pujols & C.J. in LA and Darvish in TEX.  The ranking comes down to who’s hotter as of late and Washington get’s the nod.  That said, Scioscia is an excellent manager that knows how to use his players to maximize productivity and performance.  There isn’t another division in baseball that has two better managers than Wash and Scioscia.

Score at the end of Round 3:

  1. Rangers: 35 from first two rounds + 8 + 10 = 53
  2. Angels: 31 from first two rounds + 10 + 8 = 49
  3. Mariners: 14 from first two rounds + 6 + 6 = 26
  4. Athletics: 14 from first two rounds + 4 + 4 = 22

Round 4 will cover all facets of pitching (starting rotation, relief and closer) and will be posted by this weekend.  At that time, we’ll crown the winner of the American League West in 2012 and notify commissioner Selig that playing the games won’t be necessary this year.  You picking up what I’m laying down here…my point exactly.

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