So, How About Them Mariners?

Pitchers and catchers have reported to Peoria, AZ at the Peoria Sports Complex.

With last years surprising season, coming within in one win of making the playoffs, expectations are pretty high for this team.  Some MLB pundits have the Mariners going to the World Series this year.

It’s that time of year when everyone goes to sabermetric mode, looks at every single possible statistical analysis available and points to all the trends and indicators and puts forth a prediction that Stephen Hawking would be proud of.

I hate statistics.  Yes, I will use them to find some interesting things but stats take the joy out of watching the game and takes away the real understanding of it.

I played baseball in high school and for the most part I was pretty good.  Had a decent bat, pretty good speed and prided myself at being a good defensive center fielder.  Like most kids at that age, I considered going to the major leagues until I discovered that I had and never will have, a clue on how to hit a curveball.

But there is something about putting that mitt into your face and inhaling the leather, shagging fly balls with your teammates on a clear, cloudless day and smelling the fresh cut grass that statistical information will never give you.

So here is my gut feeling on the Mariners for 2015.  They are going to be right in the thick of it and I can see them taking the American League West this year.

It appears the first 4 spots in the pitching rotations is set with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton and J. A. Happ (acquired in a trade with Toronto for Michael Saunders).  The fifth spot is up for grabs.

In my eyes, Taijuan Walker is the front runner for the fifth spot.  He had some good outings last year and being only 22 years old, has his career in front of him.  Mariners have been very careful with Walker but sooner rather than later, they are going to have to see what he has to stay at the major league level.

I’m not sure about the feel good story of the first half last year in Roenias Elias.  He is too much in love with his curve ball.  Granted, it is one of the best in the MLB but the more hitters see it, the more they will get used to it.   He needs to work on setting hitters up with his fastball…and to be honest, if he can develop a slider, he could be the sleeper for 2015.  If the Mariners were smart, they should hook him up with Randy Johnson who had one of the best sliders in the majors.

The bullpen, the strongest component of last years team, is pretty much the same this year with Fernando Rodney coming back as the closer.  Not a big fan of Rodney but can’t deny he had great success last year with 36 saves.  Along with Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina, Charlie Furbush and Tom Wilhelmsman, the Mariners have little to be worried about with leads after the 7th inning.

As for the lumber, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino and newcomer Nelson Cruz provide plenty of pop.  Cano will have his usual .300-plus, 20-25 home runs and 100 plus RBI year.  Seager could struggle a bit this year as pitchers are now aware of him.  I don’t see Zunino putting up 20 home runs this year but I do see him becoming a more dangerous hitter.  He was under .200 for batting in 2014 but I suspect he’ll be a .260 to .265 hitter this year and use the whole field.  And Nelson Cruz, who hit 33 home runs last year will solidify the middle line up.

Mariners are lacking a good lead-off man.  Austin Jackson, a very good outfielder, didn’t do very well with the Mariners after being traded from the Detroit Tigers.  Too many strikeouts and not enough walks.

For me, a leadoff batters main focus is to get on base.  Too accomplish that, the hitter needs to be patient at the plate, work the pitcher deep into counts and learn how to foul off pitches until he gets the one he likes.  Jackson, in 578 bats last year, struck out 138 times and only walked 50 times.  He has got to cut down on his K’s by at least 30% and walk in the 75 to 90 range for the year.

Dustin Ackley will have a solid, consistent year in 2015.  Everyone seems to want to write him off but I like this guy.  He has the ability to carry a team as he showed last year during an outstanding three week stretch.   He’s improving as an outfielder and has found a home in the lineup in the number eight hole.

The one spot where the Mariners have a real concern is shortstop.  Not so much from a defensive standpoint since both Brad Miller and Chris Taylor made some outstanding plays.  Miller is the more refined defensively and Taylor is probably the better hitter but not by much.  But if the Mariners concede that whoever plays shortstop will be no more than  a .220 hitter with a good glove, then they need to accept that and take whatever offense comes out is a bonus.

Manager Lloyd McClendon will keep this team on track, not allow them to get too high or too low.  He is, right now, the best temperament this team needs.  He’ll back his players 110%, won’t embarrass them to the media and won’t be afraid to sit a player down regardless of the player’s status on the team.

And as poet Alexander Pope once said “Hope springs eternal,” I look forward to sunny days listening to Mariners on the radio kicking some butt and taking names this year.

Go Mariners!

 

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