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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