Play Ball!

Yesterday morning I had the Seattle Times In Bed, a glut of articles on the Mariners and the upcoming baseball season. I read damn near every one.

Today, the Tacoma News Tribune is up to bat, regurgitating the same information I’ve swallowed all offseason long. And yet I can’t get enough. My selfish gluttony knows no bounds!

Last week I went on and on about the hitting of the Seattle Mariners. From the fan’s perspective – namely, the HOMER’S perspective – I laid out the Ideal Scenario for our lineup to score runs in bunches; even if it wasn’t all that realistic.

So, this week, I’ll give you the pitching. First, I’ll give you the rotation as it stands at the moment:

Felix Hernandez & Pray For A Monsoon To Wash Out The Next Four Games.

Or, more accurately:

King Felix
Ian Snell
Ryan Rowland-Smith
Doug Fister
Jason Vargas(!)

That’s the order we’re going in, even though Rowland-Smith is easily the 2nd best of the bunch. And Vargas had probably the best spring of any of our starters (coming into it, he either could’ve landed in AAA or the bullpen, but to his credit he won a starting job and will probably keep it for a while).

Essentially, though, it’s kind of a pathetic bunch of guys, but we’re bound to improve once April ends. Because of the following:

Cliff Lee
Erik Bedard *
Jarrod Washburn *

Who ever would’ve thought that I’d be longing for the days when we had Washburn under contract, but that’s where we stand at the moment. Of course, Cliff Lee – he of our tentpole offseason deal in what could very well be a 1-and-done situation – has an abdominal strain. Not unlike a few other abdominal strains he’s had in his career. Supposedly, he should be back to pitching full speed in two weeks or so. Even if that’s the case, he won’t have his arm built back up to starting calibre until the END of April, best case scenario. So, that’s a month where we have to somehow tread water.

Bedard is in an even MORE precarious situation, coming off of torn labrum surgery. I know every case is different, but from what I’ve read about other pitchers – ranging from Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter in St. Louis to random numbnuts I’ve never heard of – it’s taken at minumum a year and a half to get back to their peak pitching capabilities. From what I understand, best case scenario Bedard could be throwing hard again sometime in May. If he’s Superman, then that’s quite the boon for our rotation. If he’s mortal like just about every other pitcher who’s had this procedure done, he’ll be quite the boon for our rotation NEXT YEAR.

Washburn is a little more tricky. He’s still a free agent. Yes, he had a tremendous first half with us last year, but he also had a Rocky-At-Best half year with Detroit after we traded him. And then he got hurt. He’s healthy now, but he’s also up there in age and supposedly asking for more money than we’re willing to commit. However, I have a feeling one of the sides will crack and he’ll be back in the fold. I imagine that’ll be the day after Doug Fister gives up 6 runs in 3 and a third innings. Still, he’d need to build up his arm, as he hasn’t had the fortune of a Spring Training to face major league hitting. Pencil that for the end of April as well.

Here’s the Ideal Scenario for the Mariners and their starting pitching:

Felix starts off the season 4-0 with a 2.00 ERA, Rowland-Smith kicks off his first full healthy season in the majors as a starter 3-1 with a 3.60 ERA, Ian Snell maintains a 2-2 record and a 4.00 ERA, and Vargas and Fister hold the fort well enough even though they have losing records. The Mariners, through April, are a few games above .500 and are only a game behind Texas in the AL West.

Then, Cliff Lee comes back and he’s in top form, bumping Fister from the rotation. A couple weeks pass in May and the Mariners get on a little bit of a roll. At this point, Vargas is starting to come down to Earth, but Lo! There’s Washburn back from the dead, having secretly been pitching on the side all along. And his snappy little breaking ball is fooling hitters left and right!

We roll into June with a 3-game lead over the Rangers. Injuries have set in on the Angels, rendering them under .500. At this point, Erik Bedard is at full strength and is the same bulldog we’ve known all along. Which is fortunate, because Ian Snell is having elbow problems. Going into the All Star Break, our rotation looks like this:

King Felix
Cliff Lee
Ryan Rowland-Smith
Erik Bedard
Jarrod Washburn

4 Lefties! The rest of the baseball world is in awe. By the trade deadline, we’re 5 games over Texas and in his zeal, Jackie-Z pulls off a mega-deal for Adrian Gonzalez.

The rest of the season we’re in cruise control as Texas falters in the dog days of August.

Again, the likelihood is Slim To None here. But, a girl can dream, can’t she?

As for our bullpen, it’s widely believed to be the strongest element of this team. So surely, injuries and poor pitching will rule the day here. But, assuming health is rampant and nobody regresses, our ‘pen will not only be the best component of our baseball team, but it could very well be the best bullpen in all of MLB.

David Aardsma improved dramatically last season (over his previous seasons) by not walking as many hitters. He only blew 3 saves, which is incredible. Yes, he was rocky at times, but I feel that more closers get into more trouble than we realize. The fact that he was able to get himself out of so many jams (self-inflicted or not) is a testament to his ability and mentality as a closer. He should be fine (just keep him away from Arlington in 1-run games).

The rest of our bullpen consists of hard-throwing, sinkerball right handers. Mark Lowe routinely throws in the high 90s and is the consummate 8th Inning dominator. Get a lead after the 7th inning and you’ll get a lot of wins with Lowe and Aardsma out there. Brandon League is another – acquired in a trade with Toronto for Brandon Morrow – and Sean White is another (who had great success last year until he wore down from over-use). Get a lead after the 6th inning and you’ll get a lot of wins with White/League, Lowe, and Aardsma out there.

From there, we have Sean Kelley, who can be anything from our Long Reliever to our left-handed specialist. Even though he throws right-handed, he’s quite adept at getting lefties out, which is huge because we have zero left-handers in our ‘pen. And finally, we’ve got a Hawaiian pitcher from the Rule 5 Draft, nabbed from the Yankees. Hawaiian Paunch, as I’m calling him. He had the 2nd best Spring for a Mariners pitcher behind Vargas and played his way on the team by giving up only 1 run in 12+ innings.

Bottom line is, as long as our starters don’t make it a habit of going less than 6 innings – thereby tiring out what’s only a 6-man bullpen – and as long as they don’t make it a habit of giving up more runs than innings they pitch, we should be able to win a lot of close ballgames.

You can say what you want about the Mariners’ farm system in recent years, but one thing’s for certain: we’ve cultivated a collection of home-grown bullpen arms that’s saving us a bundle of cash. And they’re also great trade chips, as we’ve found out in getting Cliff Lee.

This year, all of our arms are going to have to be superhuman if we’re going to go anywhere. First pitch at approximately 7:07pm tonight. Let’s get this party started already.

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