This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Mariners, who have repeatedly been on the cusp of contention, but haven’t actually made the playoffs since 2001. This year they’re looking to build on a hopeful 2014, and they may finally have the players to put together a real October run.
Projected Lineup: CF Austin Jackson, RF Seth Smith*, 2B Robinson Cano, DH Nelson Cruz*, 3B Kyle Seager, 1B Logan Morrison, C Mike Zunino, LF Dustin Ackley, SS Brad Miller
Projected Rotation: RHP Felix Hernandez, RHP Hisashi Iwakuma, LHP James Paxton, RHP Taijuan Walker, LHP J.A. Happ*
* new additions
The Mariners missed the playoffs by one game last season, a margin that will be a rallying point for the team this year. There will be no excuse for anyone to not give 100% to every game, because any game could be the one that loses you a playoff spot.
You can use that, Lloyd McClendon. That one’s free.
The offense was the weak spot last year, a fact which is not arguable. The Mariners’ .676 OPS ranked dead last in the AL. That they were still able to win 87 games with an offense like that is a borderline miracle.
So the M’s gave their offense a boost by adding Nelson Cruz. Generally, any time you can add a 40-homer guy to your team without losing anybody else in the process, it’s a good idea. Even though Cruz won’t hit 40 again—he’ll probably end up with something closer to 25-30 now that he’s playing in Seattle—he makes the lineup infinitely more dangerous.
Just take a second to appreciate this: The Mariners’ lineup now features one of the greatest on-base guys in all of baseball (Robinson Cano) ahead of elite power from both the right side (Cruz) and the left side (Kyle Seager). You could hardly achieve a stronger 3-4-5 than that bunch if you were playing MLB: The Show with “force trades” turned on.
The rest of the offense is built on platoons, with Seth Smith sharing time with Justin Ruggiano in right, while Rickie Weeks will occasionally spell Dustin Ackley in left. All of these guys are established veterans worthy of starting spots, giving the M’s a level of depth of which most teams would be envious.
Pitching hasn’t been a problem for the Mariners, nor should it be as long as Felix Hernandez is the ace of the staff. He had a career year last season, which is saying something for a guy with a career like his. He even topped his own numbers from his Cy Young-winning 2010 season in the categories of ERA, FIP, WHIP, H/9, HR/9, BB/9, K/9, total K, and wins. Going forward, there is no reason why you should expect anything different from a guy who is still only 28 years old, and in the prime of his career.
Possibly due to Hernandez’ dominance, the pitcher following him in the rotation is one of the more underrated stars in the game. Hisashi Iwakuma quietly does his thing every fifth day for the M’s, throwing strikes, upsetting hitters’ timing with that weird leg thing, and generally being one of the more effective pitchers in the game. He posted a lower WHIP in 2014 (1.05) than Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, if that tells you anything.
The rotation also includes two youngsters, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, who are each entering their second season at the big league level. Paxton established himself in the second half of last season as a dependable member of this rotation, while Walker toiled a bit in the minors. Don’t be fooled, however—Walker’s struggles were partly due to a shoulder injury he suffered early last season. Look for him to return strong this year, with the same overpowering stuff he’s always had.
The Mariners have a team that is very capable of going deep in the playoffs. But as their fans will tell you, it’s getting there that’s the hardest part.
Projected Finish: 93-69, First place in AL West, American League Champions