The first preview of a non-AL Central opponent in what will hopefully be a series of each team we play this season. Note: These will not be as in-depth as larry's were, mostly because we play these teams far less often.
Dates we play them: 4/27-4/29 at home, 8/10-8/12 at Seattle, 9/15-9/17 at Seattle
Offense: A potential line-up: Ichiro Suzuki-RF, Jose Lopez-2B, Ken Griffey Jr.-DH, Adrian Beltre-3B, Russell Branyan-1B, Franklin Gutierrez-CF, Kenji Johjima-C, Endy Chavez-LF, Ronny Cedeño-SS Bench Players: Mike Sweeney 1B/DH, Yuniesky Betancourt-SS, Wladamir Balantien-LF/RF, Rob Johnson-C
Wow, that is just an incredibly uninspiring offense. Seattle scored only 671 runs last season. They do stand to improve on that this year. No longer having to rely on the craptacular Jose Vidro and Richie Sexson at DH and 1B respectively and replacing them with Ken Griffey Junior, Russell Branyan, and the platoon-mate of both Mike Sweeney should help tremendously. If they would swallow their pride and start Jeff Clement over Johjima at catcher, that would help greatly as well. Losing Raul Ibañez's bat in left hurts, but not having to deal with stuff like this will more than make up for it. In fact, while their outfielders (other than Ichiro) may not be all that impressive at the plate, this may very well be the best defensive outfield in baseball next season. All three men could realistically play center for any team. The greatest strength for the Mariners this season will most likely be their defense. They are above-average defensively at every position except catcher, first, and second, with Jose Lopez being a decent fielder at second. Cedeño and Lopez are good candidates to improve on their hitting, but don't look for too much. Expect a big year from Adrian Beltre, as he's playing for a new contract.
Pitching: A potential rotation and closer:Felix Hernandez-RHP, Erik Bedard-LHP, Carlos Silva-RHP, Jarrod Washburn-LHP, Ryan Rowland-Smith-LHP and Brandon Morrow-RHP.
Seattle's pitching didn't help matters much last year, as they gave up the fourth-most runs in the American League. Due to a vastly improved defense and potential improvements/increase in starts from the 3/5 of the rotation that are actually talented, the Mariners could find themselves in the middle of the pack when it comes to runs allowed this season. Felix Hernandez is a beast. The soon-to-be 23 year old is now entering his fifth major league season. If he can trim his BB/9 ratio back under 3, expect big things from the burgeoning ace. Erik Bedard's health could be the fulcrum the Mariner's season rests upon. If he puts up another year like last season, the M's will have a hard time competing in the weakened AL West. If he can get back to his Baltimore self and pitch anything over 24 starts the M's will have one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball. Bedard will benefit greatly from the improved outfield defense, as he 36.3% of the outs he's recorded are flyballs. Silva and Washburn are bad pitchers with terrible contracts thanks to the old Bavasi regime. Washburn should "improve" because an astonishing 43.7% of balls hit of him are flyballs. Ryan Rowland-Smith is a capable fifth starter on a team that pretty much has three of them. He wouldn't be in the rotation if Brandon Morrow didn't have to be a relief pitcher. Unfortunately, Morrow's diabetes makes it incredibly hard for him to be anything other than a relief pitcher. Morrow strikes out batters like an elite relief pitcher (9.91 K/BB), but walks far too many (4.73 BB/9 last season). Last season marked an improvement on walks allowed and if Morrow can continue the trend, he could be a mid to middle-upper tier closer.
Outlook: If everything goes right for the Mariners, they could actually make the playoffs this season. A more realistic prediction would be third place with an outside shot of taking second and a sub-.500 record, something around 74-78 wins. The Mariners are taking great strides towards improving but are still a year or two away from being a major threat.
[originally published prior to the season - bumped for timelinesss]
A quick update: Since this one was done before the season started, some things have obviously changed. The offense has been bad as expected, the defense has been phenonemonal, also as expected. The pitching has been lights out. I doubt Bedard will keep pitching at such a high level (225 ERA+), but he will still be far above average. They look really good right now and I wish we weren't playing them right after playing Toronto.