Tag Archives: MLB

Should The NFL Washington Team Change Their Name?

I know this has been discussed to the nth degree…but I feel that I need to add yet another perspective.

While I am aware that there are other teams in professional sports that refer to Native American heritage, none of them are as disparaging as derogatory as “Redskin.”

For example, in baseball, the teams that refer to Native American heritage are:

Atlanta Braves – While the “Tomahawk chop” is fairly offensive, calling someone a brave isn’t.   The term brave, as used in Indian nomenclature, is an American Indian warrior.  However, the Braves did have their own issues in regards to disparaging Native Americans.  Chief Noc-A-Homa (a play on words of Knock A Homer) was the mascot of the Braves (both in Milwaukee and Atlanta) from the 1950’s until 1986.  While a mascot for the team, he lived in a teepee and came out when the Braves hit a home run.  They also had another mascot name Princess “Win-A-Lotta.”  In 1986, the Braves changed mascots to “Homer” and “Rally.”  The change was an economic one as Levi Walker, Jr., the best known Chief, complained that the Braves didn’t consider him a full-time employee so they didn’t provide any benefits.  The Braves paid him $5,000 and went in a different direction.

Cleveland Indians – Nothing offensive here until you look at the Indians logo, “Chief Wahoo.”  Thankfully, the Indians have announced that the logo will no longer be part of the Cleveland MLB team starting in 2019.  The grinning red-faced Indian is just as offensive as the term “redskin.”  There is little mention of the Indians being offensive to Native Americans…and now Chief Wahoo is on the way out, I’m fairly certain the Indians will be under the radar.

In the NHL:

Chicago Blackhawks – The Blackhawks have long been a target of controversy.  Not based on racial issues but rather concerns of Native Americans being viewed as mascots.  The team, founded in 1926, was actually named in honor of the U.S. 86th Infantry division, nicknamed the “Blackhawk Division,” after “Black Hawk,” an Native American chief.  The controversy hasn’t generated much on a national level since it doesn’t have the allure of an NFL team.

The NBA does not have a team that references any Native American heritage.

The Washington Redskins are perhaps THE most offensive name to all Native Americans.  The term “redskin” is a slang term referring to Native Americans in the United States and Canada.  The use of skin color as a racial identifier to Indians can be traced back to the 17th century.

The use of the word redskin, outside of reference to the Washington Redskins, has pretty much disappeared from common use.   But the use of the term by Washington and many high school and college teams have been a point of controversy.  As such, many high school and collage teams have changed their name to avoid controversy.

Daniel Snyder has opposed any name change to his team.  Back in 2013, in a letter to fans, Snyder stated that while he respects those who are offended by the term, he pointed out that the 81-year team history cannot be ignored.

There have been various polls of Native Americans, some that are vehement in their opinions to have the name changed, and some that show that the name of the team does not offend them.

In 2017, the Supreme Court struck down parts of a law that bans trademarks on offensive remarks that pretty much protected the team from any legal challenges.  In that same year, the Washington Post conducted a thorough survey of Native Americans if the team name was offensive.  Overwhelmingly, the survey showed that Native Americans were not offended by the team name.

As with any issue, there are many sides…and as we all know, we can’t please everyone.  I have read nothing about people of Norwegian descent in an uproar about the Minnesota Vikings nor have I heard of any marches by folks of Irish descent to the Boston Garden over the use of a leprechaun that the Boston Celtics use.

So back to the question:  Should the Washington Redskins change their name?  While it may be offensive to some (including me), surveys done by the National Annenberg Election Survey in 2004 and then again by the Washington Post in 2016 show that Native Americans were “not bothered” by the name.

It is my opinion (for whatever it’s worth) that there are many more important issues to resolve than the team name of an NFL football team.  Let the team have their name…Native Americans aren’t nearly as troubled about it as thought.  I don’t like the name and was never a fan since the Redskins consistently have stood in the way of my Detroit Lions getting a Super Bowl.  Three times (1982, 1991 & 1999) they have thwarted them from advancing in the playoffs.

Forget this issue and lets concentrate on more important things like perhaps treating each other better?  Eliminate bigotry and accept each other for what each of us are: people.

Let’s vote in politicians who actually want to make our lives better and invoke what their constituents want rather than what special interest groups with deep pockets want.

My name is Jim Dunn (aka The Beer Thinker) and I approve this message.

 

 

What’s Different About the 2016 Seattle Mariners? Team Chemistry!

Seattle Baseball\

The Seattle Mariners are in first place. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

While it may be only the end of May, at this time last year the Mariners were 24-26 in the midst of a 7-game losing streak and by all indications, really weren’t going to get any better as the season went on.

Now, with a sparkling 27-18 record that includes an 18-7 road record, the best in the majors, they sit atop of the American League West division with a 1-1/2 game lead on the Texas Rangers.

What’s different? Statistically, not much from last year. Mariners have scored 21 more times than 2015, have 30 more RBI’s, increased walks by 13 and reduced strike outs by 62. Not significant increases that indicate a magic bullet for the improvement over last year.

Pitching stats show a better picture: Lowered ERA from 3.78 to 3.20, allowed 80 less hits and 54 less runs scored and decreased the walks by 31. Pitching staff has done a real nice job keeping opposing runners off base.

Perhaps it is the change in philosophy from the Jack Zduriencik/Lloyd McClendon days. The 2015 Mariners had high expectations picked by some to be in the World Series. But after 7 disappointing seasons, the plug had to be pulled.

No sense in going over what happened last year…we all know that last year’s team was uninspired to put it mildly. It seemed to me that players didn’t care about winning…and part of that could be the decisions to play players out of position such as Brad Miller and Dustin Ackley. It can be important to one’s morale to play a position they want to play and feel they are good at instead of being placed anywhere on the diamond.

I also would have to blame a lot on Jack Zdurencik’s ability to evaluate players:

  • Justin Smoak, in the five years he played for Seattle, had a batting average of .226, struck out about 87 times a year and while he showed flashes of power, more often than not, he ground into double plays.
  • His replacement, Logan Morrison, wasn’t much better. He did have a solid season in 2014 hitting .262 with 11 home runs but only drove in 38 runs in 336 at bats. His performance dropped considerably in 2015, hitting a paltry .225, showing more power with 17 home runs and driving in 54. But he was more known for assisting Fernando Rodney in shooting make-believe arrows.
  • Ackley, a highly touted player coming out of college, hit decent in his 4 years with a .250 batting average. But he never looked comfortable at the plate and getting moved around defensively probably messed with his head.
  • Mike Zunino is perhaps Zdurencik’s biggest mistake. Evaluated him correctly but promoted him way too fast. Drafted in 2012, he zoomed thru A to AAA ball and with a mere 159 minor league games under his belt (59 at AAA level), he became the Mariners starting catcher in 2013. 2015 was epically bad as Zunino hit .174 and struck out 132 times in 350 at bats. He was able to hit 11 home runs and played great defense at catcher. But he was a black hole in the line-up.

So what is different between this year and last year? For one thing, after the initial 3-6 start, they have gotten off to a way better start over the first 46 games. First place in the American League West with a game and a half lead over the Rangers. Last year? At the end of May, they were 24-26, in fourth place, 6 and half games behind the Houston Astros.

I also am a big believer in how Jerry Dipoto and his team with the type of players they brought in, those with good on base percentage and getting more balls in play. Dipoto and first-year manager Scott Servais also did a real smart thing when spring training opened.

Early in camp, each day, Servais had players stand up during the morning meetings to discuss their backgrounds. It could go from explaining how they got into the big leagues, who they admire the most and what difficulties they overcame to get where they are. They also spoke about any hobbies they might have. That’s important in a team environment. It shows that players may have common interests and could form bonds outside of baseball which in turn, can form a high level of trust on the field.

Some examples of how this brought the team together:

  • Reliever Tony Zych said he liked to play pool. Servais asked if he was any good and Zych said yes. Servais tasked Zych to get a pool table in the clubhouse the next day. Second baseman Robison Cano ponied up to cover the cost. The next day, Servais and Zych played. Servais played the first shot, sank it and then missed his next. Zych never gave his manager another shot as he ran the table, much to the delight of the team.
  • Comedian Domingo Ayala delivered one liners and jokes for a day.
  • Pitcher Danny Hultzen was assigned to deliver a world daily report which later expanded to Nori Aoki doing reports on Japan and Nelson Cruz on the Dominican Republic.
  • When Cano’s team beat Cruz’s team in a situational hitting contest, Cruz had to buy steak and shrimp for the entire Mariner complex

Team chemistry, one of the most overlooked aspects of the game, was being developed. And it starts with Servais whose style is to keep things positive. He likes to keep it loose but when it’s time to work, you have to be ready. Servais made it a point to spend almost 95% of spring training on team-building with the goal to develop equity and trust with players.

I’d say he’s achieved his goal.

We all know the crux of this team is Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager. None have disappointed this year and Cano, now healthy, is putting together a monster year. But other players, like Leonys Martin. He is hitting .262 with 9 home runs, which is already a career high. Prior to coming to the Mariners, he had 20 career home runs…he keeps hitting like this and he’ll have 20 by mid-July!

How about Seth Smith, playing solid defense out in right field and an OPB of .376 which is great for the number 2 guy in the line-up.

And Chris Iannetta, brought in until Mike Zunino can claim his spot back, with some timely hits including one walk-off home run.

And how about those situational players such as Dae-Ho Lee, whose walk off home run against the Rangers in April snapped a 6-game losing streak. Or Franklin Gutierrez who smacked a monster home run against the Reds last week.

These players have brought an attitude that we haven’t seen since 2001 Mariners when they won 116 games.

And the pitching! Did anyone expect Wade Miley to be 5-2 and be such an innings eater? Or that Nathan Karns would beat out James Paxton for the number 5 slot and be 4-1 with a 3.53 ERA?

How about a bullpen that was much maligned last year, coming in with a 2.62 ERA with 13 saves and 32 holds and an average of 9.87 strikeouts per nine innings.

This team is getting runs, making opposing pitchers work, playing good defense and not letting the other teams score.

We know that the major league season is 162 games…we also know that at some point during the season, the Mariners are going to go thru a tough patch. But I think with the make-up of this team and the chemistry it has, that tough patch will be a short one.

This team has a chance to be in the playoffs…and if they get there, I’d put some money on them getting to the World Series and winning it.

Seattle Mariners – What Can We Expect This Time?

Mariners

This Friday, February 19th, 2016, kicks off the Seattle Mariners 2016 baseball season.

And while I appreciate all the changes new Mariner GM Jerry Dipoto has made since he took office in September, the most burning question I have is, just what can we expect from this team in 2016?

Dipoto says all the right things, that the Mariners foundation is excellent, build a team that has flexibility, balance and is sustainable and the team needs to add depth.  What else is he supposed to say, right?

But there is one thing I found different than any of the other GM’s that have sat in that chair for the Mariners.  He is taking a holistic view of the team and rather than try to have instant success via free agency, he is going to build from a farm system that is stocked with some very good talent.

We all can trace back to the failures the Mariners have tried in bringing up players who appeared to be ready but weren’t.  The most glaring example is that of Mike Zunino.

In college, while at Florida, Zunino was a career .320 hitter and averaged 58 RBI’s per season.  Had an excellent slugging percentage of .605 and an on base percentage of .383, excellent numbers for a catcher.  And no one could dispute his defensive skills.  When the Mariners drafted him 2013, I could see Zunino behind the dish full-time in 2015.

Zunino continued to excel in the minor leagues, moving quickly from A ball to AAA ball by 2013, just a year out of college.  And with the numbers he had in the minors, it wasn’t surprising he was called up at the end of the 2013 season.  Slugging percentage of .597, batting average of .313  and showed some power hitting 27 home runs and driving in 94 during his short time in the minors.

When he was slated as the starting catcher to start the 2014 season, I thought it was too soon.  But I got the feeling the Mariners were in panic mode and wanted him up.  And he was a major flop at the plate over the next two seasons.  Sure, he hit 22 home runs and drove in 60 in 2014, but his batting average was an anemic .199 and the on base percentage dropped to .294.  Add to that and he struck out 158 times, often in critical RBI situations.

2015 was even worse, hitting only .174, striking out 132 times with a mere .300 slugging percentage.  It was clear that Zunino had some major flaws in his swing that big league pitchers graphically exposed.  Interim GM Jeff Kingston mercifully shipped Zunino down to the minors and kept him there for the remainder of the season instead of calling him up in September.

Dipoto knew that a cultural change was needed.  And while I liked Lloyd McClendon as a manager, the writing was on the wall when Dipoto was hired in.  I like the hiring of Scott Servias, whom Dipoto worked with during his stint with the Angels.  And while Servias has never managed at any level, Dipoto hired some savvy veteran baseball men in Tim Bogar and Manny Acta.

There was an immediate need to change the culture, not just at the major league level, but through out the entire organization.  I think one of the reasons why Zunino flamed out was because he had connected with the coaching staffs at the minor league levels but not with Howard Johnson, who was the batting coach for the Mariners when Zunino was first called up.  And by the time Edgar Martinez could put some time in with him, Zunino was so screwed up that the best thing they could do was let him work it out in the minors.

Dipoto gathered all of the coaches from every level and wanted to get everyone on the same page, stressing what the big league club needed to succeed.  And to do that, the players coming up from the minors needed to have good on base percentage and low strike-out ratios.  The idea is to make opposing pitchers work, to stretch them out early and get to the opposing teams middle relievers as soon as they can.

The hitting coaches in particular needed to stress the same things at every level.  Dipoto and Edgar Martinez came up with a game plan that will start in A ball and have the same game plan all the way to AAA ball.  So when a player is called up, he will need to meet the same expectations as he did in the minors and the surprises will be minimal.

I suspect that was the issue with Zunino.  His expectations in the minors were vastly different than what was expected in the majors.  His whole hitting philosophy was changed by Howard Johnson when he got there and he had to think to much while at the plate, which caused indecisiveness, which caused hesitation, which caused him to strike out.

When a player, regardless of the sport, has to think too much, he’s toast.  As the great Crash Davis always said “Get out of your head” is always a great mantra to follow.

I agree with most of the predictions out there, that the Mariners will hit about 75 – 83 wins this year.  And while that might be a disappointment again, we need to give this management team a chance to impellent their plan because I believe this is a solid foundational plan that will make Seattle a baseball town again.  Not for just a couple of years, but for a couple of decades.

Looking forward to the season!

NFL Crowns Detroit Lions as Champions – In 1957

FreePressLionsWin

Going into the 2016 season, it will be 59 years since the Detroit Lions have won an NFL championship.

To put things in perspective, and I know there are a lot of people in the same boat, I will be turning 58 in 2016 without ever seeing the Detroit Lions win a championship.

Want to know what the trophy looked like last time they won?  Here you go:

Ed Thorp Trophy

It was called the Ed Thorp Memorial trophy.  Who was Ed Thorp you might ask?  He was a referee, rules expert, sporting goods dealer and a good friend to the NFL owners during the early years.

You aren’t going to find this trophy in a case of any of the teams that won NFL championships from 1934 through 1969 because there was only one trophy.  It was passed each year to the teams that won, much like how the Stanley Cup is in the NHL.

There are replicas of the trophy but the original’s location is unknown.  The last recipient, the Minnesota Vikings in 1969 somehow lost it when the NFL went to the Lombardi Trophy in 1970.  It is also believed to have cursed the Vikings as they being the last winners…and they went on to appear in 4 Super Bowls and lost them all.

Since 1957, the Lions have not gotten back to the big dance.  To be honest, I’m not all sure as to why.  Yes, there were some bad general managers and presidents that ownership stayed loyal far longer than others would have.  However, the phrase “even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while” comes to mind.

I don’t write this to bash the Lions players or coaches.  I am fairly certain that each of them has a desire to win.  However, having a desire with little talent to do so, that’s something different.

Each of us Lions fans can count numerous coaches and players that while had a desire to win, had no business being in the NFL.  Marty Mornhinweg, Joey Harrington & Titus Young are just a few that come to mind.

Years ago, when I was writing for the Bleacher Report, I had speculated as to which team between the Detroit Lions and the Cleveland Browns would get to the Super Bowl first.  Ironic that these two teams have waited in futility for decades, the Lions looking at 6 and the Browns  just a little over 5.

What holds true then and now is that these two teams are the oldest teams in the NFL to have never played in a Super Bowl.  Cleveland perhaps would have gotten there in the 1980’s were it not for the Denver Bronco’s and John Elway.

The Lions best opportunity to date was in 1991, the last year the Lions won a playoff game.  They were one game away from getting to the Super Bowl and after blowing out the Dallas Cowboys at the Pontiac Silverdome 38-6, they reverted to kittens the following week and were blown out by eventual Super Bowl winner, Washington.

No, there will be no re-hashing the ineptness of the front office for the past 5 decades, we all know what the issues are there.

What I do want to stress is that the Lions, as an organization, owe it to their fans, in Detroit and all over the world, to put together a team that must have one focus in mind…from the owner down to the ball boy, to get to the Super Bowl and win it.

The other professional teams in Detroit have done their best to mollify Detroit Sports fans, the Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons have all gone on to win World Series, Stanley Cup and NBA Championships numerous times since the Lions last won an NFL Championship:

Tigers – appeared in 4 World Series, winning 2 of them, 1968 and 1984.

Red Wings – Appeared in 9 Stanley Cups, winning 4 of them.

Detroit Pistons – Appeared in 5 NBA Championships, winning 3.

Is it too much to ask Lions ownership to get us one?  Don’t hand me that crap that the NFL is very competitive.  MLB, NHL & NBA has just as fierce of competition as the NFL does.

How do teams like New England, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Green Bay and Seattle consistently get into the playoffs and Super Bowls and win?

Detroit Lions have the same access to college players and free agents that these teams do, right?

I believe the issues is one of lack of vision…at the top.  Martha Ford may be the elixir to get the Lions pointed in the right direction.  She shook the team to the core by firing Millen left overs Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand.

She also made a smart decision by hiring Ernie Accorsi as a consultant to find a GM for the Lions.  The search won’t really begin in earnest until after the Super Bowl and there are plenty of candidates to approach.

But what will make the Lions attractive to the next general manager?  Will they have the power and authority to do what it will take to put together a Super Bowl team?

And what of the current status of players?  Will Calvin Johnson be used to accumulate draft picks?  Will Matthew Stafford be that QB that all of us hope he would be when drafted in 2009?  Will the Lions ever have a potent running attack?  An offensive line that will open holes and pass block?  Will they have a good defensive team and a good offensive team at the same time?

There are more questions than answers at this point.  And I can only watch from afar and continue to support my Lions as I have been for as long as I can remember.

Right now, I turn my attention to my second hometown team, the Seattle Seahawks and hope they can find the magic and get back to the Super Bowl for the third straight time.

Go Lions!  Go Hawks!

 

 

Seattle Mariner Fans – Relax Will Ya? It’s Just The First Week!

No Need To Panic Yet...Mariners are just getting warmed up!
No need to panic yet…Mariners are just getting warmed up!

After Felix Hernandez’s opening day gem, the Seattle Mariners went on to lose three straight games.

Reading articles and posts of fans who respond to them, as well as listening fans who call in or test to sports radio shows, I get the sense that this city is having a panic attack.

I suppose some of that can be attributed to all the hype that has been heaped upon the Mariners with many folks predicting they will go to the World Series.  Even I made the bold prediction they will win 93 games.  I still stand by the prediction and I am not going to change it after only seeing them play five games.

This is baseball.  This game has highs and lows that are going to occur during the course of a 162 game season.  Granted, it would have been nice to have the Detroit Tigers or Kansas City Royals 5-0 start.  But last time I checked, no major league baseball team has gone undefeated.

This Seattle Mariner team is going to be in the thick of it.  And let’s all remember they need to do well enough to make the playoffs, where every team, regardless of what they did during the regular season, start the playoffs with an 0-0 record.

Mariners are stacked with a good, solid pitching rotation, anchored by Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez and two veteran pitchers in J.A. Happ and Hisashi Iwakuma.  Also in the mix are two young rising starts in Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.

The bullpen, one of the best in baseball last year, is back with essentially the same staff of Danny Farquhar, Charlie Furbush, Yoervis Medina and closer Fernando Rodney.  New additions Carson Smith and Tyler Olsen will only make them stronger.

The line-up is stronger despite what folks think of the first five games.  Gone is Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak, Nick Franklin and Kendrys Morales all who were supposed to bring the pop the Mariners have been so desperately seeking.

Mariner front office made the commitment last year to Robinson Cano and that signing told Mariner fans they wanted to build a winner.  GM Jack Zduriencik, who had been under fire, had to breathe a lot easier when the team won 87 games last year.

This year, they deepened their commitment and started to build around Cano.  The signed budding superstar third baseman Kyle Seager to a long-term contract and brought it last year’s home run leader Nelson Cruz from the Baltimore Oriels.

The rest of the team is pretty solid with Dustin Ackley and Logan Morrison.  They are still a little weak in right field with the platoon of Justin Ruggiano and Seth Smith.  And I am still not convinced that Austin Jackson is the true lead-off hitter they need.  He’s more of a number two guy but as of right now, Mariners don’t have a solid lead-off guy they can depend on so Jackson is it.

The point of all this?  This town cannot expect the same type of energy each and every game as they do for Seahawk games.  If they do, then the Mariners will be done before June.

What we can do is keep supporting them and understand that it’s a long season and anything can happen.  And I suspect there is some magic in this team that will surprise all of us.

Keep the faith and relax…The Mariners are going to be just fine.

Beer Thinker Prediction – Seattle Mariners Win 93 Games

Seattle Baseball

On Monday, the Seattle Mariners open their 2015 season against the Los Angles Angels of Anaheim.  It’s really the first time in many years that I am officially excited to see how this team does.

Last year, with expectations low, a new manager and one very high-profile free agent signing of Robinson Cano, many predictions were the Mariners would finish no better than .500 with yet another season of no playoff hopes.

Manager Lloyd McClendon, newly hired from the Detroit Tigers staff, had other thoughts.  I’m pretty sure he endeared himself to Mariner fans when he stood up for Robinson Cano when a Yankee official commented on Cano’s hustle.  “What’s he doing talking about my player?” has to go down as the best response to the uncalled criticism.  It was almost Piniella-esque!

With the guidance of McClendon and the leadership of Cano, the Mariners came within one win of getting into the playoffs.  Felix Hernandez had a record setting year and Kyle Seager proved himself to be one of the best all-around third baseman in the league with some great defense and clutch hitting.

You have to think the Mariners are going to do better this year.   They finally have an official big-bopper in the #4 spot in Nelson Cruz and the line-up is pretty much set.  I have concerns over the lead-off spot as well as getting offense from the shortstop position.  Defensively, the Mariners are going to be one of the better defensive teams in the majors.

I was listening to the Danny, Dave and Moore show on ESPN’s 710 Sports in Seattle on the way home from work.  They were doing a segment on bold predictions for the Mariners.  It got me to thinking just how many games the Mariners will win this year.

Jim Moore’s prediction is they will win 100 games this year.  Personally I think that’s a bit far-fetched but you got to admire Moore’s spunk.

Mariners went 87-75 last season and were in the playoff hunt until the last day of the season.  With the pitching they have and a much more dependable lineup, I think the Mariners will go 93-69.

As for other predictions, such as the number of home runs Cruz will hit or if Felix will win 20 games, I don’t really want to go there.

What I want to see is that the Mariners play good, solid baseball, score more runs than the other team and get into the playoffs.

If Nelson Cruz hits only 20 home runs but gets 120 RBI’s, I’m fine with that.  In fact, if Cruz, Cano, Seager and Mike Zunino all get 20 home runs each and drive in at least 80 runs each, I’d be more than happy with that production.  And it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that could occur.

I believe this team is going to be special this year.  With 3 bona-fide superstars in Cano, Cruz and Felix along with some superstars in the making such as Seager, Zunino, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, the Mariners have few weak spots.  Add to that players in supporting roles in Dustin Ackley, Austin Jackson and Danny Farquhar only makes them a solid and deeply talented team.

They still need to play the games and with McClendon, he won’t allow them to get to full of themselves nor let them wallow when things aren’t going well.

93-69 has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Go Mariners!

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!