A brief look at a team we play this weekend.
Offense: Chone Figgins-LF, Dustin Ackley-2B, Ichiro Suzuki-RF, Justin Smoak-1B, Jesus Montero-DH/"C", Kyle Seager-3B, Michael Saunders-CF, Miguel Olivo-C, Brendan Ryan-SS. Bench: John Jaso-C/DH, Casper Wells-OF, Munenori Kawasaki-IF.
Chone Figgins had a .218 wOBA last season. .218! So Eric Wedge decided to do what any reasonable and level-headed person would and now Chone Figgins is leading off. Eric Wedge hates Mariners' fans. Hates them. Chone is no longer the player he once was, but what did you expect out of a 34 year old whose entire game was based on the fact that he was freaky fast? It's harder to steal bases when you aren't getting to first and he's less valuable in the outfield than he is at third. The end of his career has been depressing. But watching Dustin Ackley develop won't be. Ackley should be the next great second baseman in the AL. He hit well at every level in the minors and was above average in his 90 games in the majors last season. He has a pretty good eye and could develop 20-25 homerun power as he gets older (he's only 24 years old). He's only been a second baseman for three years though, so he's a bit rough defensively. If not for Ichiro, he could easily become the offensive face of the franchise soon.
But until Ichiro does retire, he's the man everyone will continue to identify with the current Mariners. At age 38, Ichiro finally had a bad season. And Eric Wedge decided to move him to the three hole to make up for it. Eric Wedge also farts on the garlic fries when he gets to the stadium in the morning. But back to Ichiro. I've been holding out hope that my favorite robot (sorry Johnny 5) would find a way to never decline, but apparently old age can slow done even the most rigorous of conditioners. His BABIP was incredibly low for his career, but you have to wonder if it was a fluke or the Reaper coming for him. He can still steal at an amazing rate and still plays good defense. And he does a pretty good Sean Connery. Justin Smoak still hasn't quite figured out how to make the jump from AAA to the majors. His power just hasn't developed like everyone said it would, which makes his low batting average even more unpalatable. There is still hope he could turn it around, but his ceiling seems to have dropped quite a bit and no amount of tree punching is going to change that.
Jesus Montero is the hitting wunderkind that came over from the Yankees in the Michael Pineda trade. It was a smart move for Seattle, as it's always going to be easier to find pitchers that can succeed at Safeco than hitters. The results have been less than stellar thus far. He will break out of his current slump. His numbers from the minors and his cup of coffee last season show he can hit, but he has shown a vulnerability to strikeouts at the higher levels. It will be interesting to see how long he can actually play catcher for though because he is one big dude. According to the internet, Kyle Seager is a person and does exist! Seager has good gap power (33 doubles in 90 minor league games last season), but doesn't project to hit more than 10-15 homeruns. As long as he isn't a butcher defensively, he'll be employable for quite some time.
Michael Saunders is starting in center field until the eternally injured Franklin Gutierrez temporarily comes back off the disabled list. He's one of those strange fellows who bats lefty, but throws right-handed. I can't abide that. Just seems wrong. Saunders is a decent enough fourth outfielder, but he just can't hit well enough to be a reliable starter. Miguel Olivo is off to a horrible start. Like, Brent Morel/Gordon Beckham horrible. Every number in his slash line starts with .1. It's bad. Olivo has never shown any desire to display plate discipline, so when his BABIP is low he's going to look really bad. He's still gunning down runners at an above average rate, so this is yet another series Robin shouldn't be greenlighting everyone. Brendan Ryan is a glove first shortstop with decent speed. He's off to a bit of a hot start this year, but he belongs batting ninth. Well, maybe not in this lineup. Here's hoping he regrows his stache.
Pitching: Felix Hernandez-RHP, Jason Vargas-LHP, Hector Noesi-RHP, Blake Beavan-RHP, Kevin Millwood-RHP Brandon League-CL.
In case you forgot, Felix Hernandez is really good at baseball. The Mariners might not have much else going for them, but they do have one of the legitimate aces in the league right now. He's going to get strikeouts by the dozen. He doesn't give up homeruns. He's a spokesperson for the local animal shelter. He hates domestic violence. He's an okay ventriloquist. I hope he never leaves Seattle. He has a four seamer in the mid-90s, a sinking two seamer in the mid-90s, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. And they're all good. Jason Vargas is a solid pitcher who gets no attention because he plays in Seattle. He's more of a third starter than a second, but those designations are a bit silly anyways. He's not a strikeout pitcher, but he limits his walks. He throws a high-80s fastball, a sinker, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup.
Hector Noesi was an additional piece in the Montero/Pineda trade. Noesi is a young Dominican who has demonstrated good strikeout potential in the minors. If he gets his walk rate down a bit more, he could be a valuable back of the rotation starter. He throws a low-to-mid-90s four seamer, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. Blake Beavan sounds like one of those random imaginary minor leaguers MVP Baseball used to fill the lower levels with. But there are pictures and videos of him, so I assure you he is real. Beavan does not strike anyone out and barely did in the minors. He doesn't walk anybody, but pitching to contact can be a risky proposition when not in pitchers' parks. Beavan throws a low-90s fastball, a curveball, a changeup, and a slider.
Kevin Millwood is actually pitching in the majors still? Seriously? He threw a full season as recently as 2010, so there's no reason to think he couldn't do so again this year. You know, other than the fact that he's 37 freaking years old. How is he still doing it? He keeps the ball down and induces grounders. He throws a four-seamer in the low-90s, a sinker, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup. Brandon League is another closer who doesn't rely on strikeouts. But when you have a career groundball rate of 61%, you don't really have to. League is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, though he does possess a show me slider. He throws a sinker in the upper-90s and a splitter in the high-80s.
Outlook: The Mariners, much like the White Sox, are projected to finish near the bottom of the American League. We've owned the Mariners the last two seasons, and I expect that trend to continue. Season series of 6-3.