Monday, April 5, 2010

Your 2010 Seattle Mariners

I've looked everywhere but I cannot find my Mariners baseball cap. Fortunately, my little "Sweet Lu" is representing for me this opening day.

Just a few hours from the first game of the season. Seattle made some high profile moves much earlier in the off-season, and it was certainly looking like the Mariner's front office was "in it to win it". Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins, and Milton Bradley were the major additions to the team. But as pre-season continued skeptics began asking again whether the offense would be good enough and the starting rotation go deep enough to make a run for a title in what could be a competitive division. Doubt and concern grew as Cliff Lee suffered an abdominal strain in spring training that has the potential to keep him out of the rotation till mid-May. Mariners fans were waiting to see if GM Jack Zdierenek had any surprise moves left before the season began in order to fill the offensive holes at first base, DH, and elsewhere in the infield; or perhaps to shore up the back end of the rotation with a better arm. Instead, we entered spring training with a mix of solid players and some big question marks.

Here is where I put my hope. The best 1-2 pitching punch in baseball: Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee. Reports are that Lee is recovering fairly quickly from his strain, and that though he starts the season on the DL, he could be back as early as the end of April. Additionally, we have Erik Beddard recovering from elbow surgery and also progressing very quickly. If he comes back in form, we'll 3 starters each capable of staff aces. This becomes especially valuable in the postseason where the breaks in between divisional and league series sets us up to sweep our rivals, saving our back end of the rotation for clean up duty. And though there's a lot of skepticism about our offense, I like what this lineup has going for it. Ichiro and Chone Figgins are an incredible pair to lead off with. They get on base a lot and move around the bases quickly. We might not have much in the way of power hitters, but when you get fast guys on base often-- runs will score. I'm also of the mind that Milton Bradley has a lot of potential to bounce back from what was really not-all-that-bad of a season with the Cubs last year. The guy can still hit. If he stays healthy, sane, and avoids ejection-- I think he can still hit for avg and draw walks. Once again, the bullpen looks to be an underrated asset. And though it'll be hard to match the defensive numbers put up by last year's squad, once again this team is built around incredible defense that will help keep us in games even when our bats aren't so hot.

The big question marks and worry spots are still offensive in nature. A Ken Griffey Jr./Mike Sweeney Platoon at DH is a frightening thing. Both are fragile, older guys who each have a good chance of losing playing time to injury, and each will have to buck the trend of steep hitting decline in their age brackets. Similarly, with Casey Kotchman penciled in as the everyday 1st basemen, he hasn't yet shown himself to hit big league pitching with consistency. He strikes out too much, and doesn't seem to have the power bat you'd like from a first baseman. And finally, Ian Snell continues to struggle to find the strike zone. He remains something of a head case. Many say the potential is there to be a fine starter, but I'm just not all that impressed.

I think this team is built for a winning season, but it's hard to see them easily finishing ahead of Texas, the Angels, and even Oakland looks competitive. A few things will need to go right: Lee gets healthy quick, Griffey/Sweeney bucks the trend and hits productively inspite of their geriatric status, Kotchman breaks out with some power, Beddard comes back with that good placement and killer curveball, and Milton Bradley proves that last year was a fluke and he is still a solid hitter. If three or four of these things happen, we've got a good chance. If two or three happen, we've got an outside chance. And the possibility exists that all scenarios fail to play out and we lose 90 games. But its opening day and everybody starts out tied for first! This is an exciting team because there is so much that could go right and so much that could go wrong. 2008 was a huge disappointment, 2009 was a pleasant surprise, 2010 just has no predicting...