Thursday, March 13, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Seattle Mariners

A look back: All year long, Seattle transformed itself into a threat to make the playoffs out of the American League, eventually coming six games shy of doing so. To rectify that situation, the Mariners added Baltimore ace Erik Bedard to an already strong pitching staff in a park that rewards pitching to the extreme. Add in 19 games each against Texas and Oakland, a pair of bottom feeders, and the Mariners can realistically dethrone the Angels in the AL West.

Positives on the field: Ichiro and the aces. Ichiro Suzuki is one of the top leadoff men in the American League, and certainly tops in the AL West (only Cleveland's Grady Sizemore is really in the conversation), giving Seattle a huge edge. But the order doesn't stop with Suzuki. Raul IbaƱez provides power in the cleanup spot, with several guys in the lineup having either potential for power, swings tailor-made for Safeco Field (Brad Wilkerson comes to mind) or both.

On the pitching side, Seattle has a pair of studs in Bedard and Felix Hernandez, and a bullpen with a lights-out closer named J.J. Putz. Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista and Carlos Silva are all serviceable in their roles. With as much an edge as Safeco provides its pitchers, that only helps confidence. Confidence breeds wins.

Negatives on the field: Seattle's order has too many spots that can turn into weaknesses if the hitters can't get on base. Suzuki is a given, but guys like Richie Sexson will have to rediscover their power or they're going to have to use Safeco's dimensions to the advantages they were meant to be used for.

The bullpen is solid at the end, even fantastic, but there isn't a great bridge to Putz. That will have to be discovered or Seattle's starters or hitters (or both) will have a lot of pressure to build leads so Putz has a chance to save them.

Outlook: It's Seattle's time. The Mariners have been building towards this for a while, and they are now ready to take the next step and return to the playoffs. The Angels won't go down easily, but Seattle finally has the pieces in place to unseat Los Angeheim and take the American League West crown.

Projected finish: 1st in AL West, lose to Tigers in ALDS. Season opener is March 31 at Safeco Field against Texas.

Spring base: Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria, Ariz. The team plays its games in Phoenix and Tucson, sharing the stadium with the San Diego Padres.

Fan of the team?: Check out Lookout Landing, a Mariners fan community.

Come back tomorrow: Who needs a DH? Well, actually, the next team might wish they could use one. The road trip returns to the Bay Area to open the tour of the National League with the San Francisco Giants.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Rick Trevino.

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