I tend to not care as much about the batting order as I do about the pitching rotation. Even though I’m dreadful at both, I fancy myself a pitcher at heart (even if it is just the Backyard Baseball variety). While things appear to be in flux regarding this year’s Seattle Mariners rotation – and most likely will continue to be in flux all season thanks to injuries (both new and recovering) and potential additions should we hang around in the standings come Trading Deadline – it’s the batting order that intrigues me right now, as it appears to be as set as it’ll ever be.
This team is only going to go as far as the hitting manages to take us. That’s usually how it goes when your team’s biggest strength is Pitching & Defense. Unless your rotation is made up of five Cy Youngs, you’re going to need to score more than 3 runs a ballgame to WIN a lot of ballgames.
Here’s how Geoff Baker is setting the Opening Day line up:
Ichiro – RF
Figgins – 2B
Kotchman – 1B
Bradley – LF
Griffey – DH
Lopez – 3B
Gutierrez – CF
Johnson – C
Wilson – SS
I’m apt to trust his judgment in such matters, as he’s about as On The Ball as they get. Nevertheless, I’m highly skeptical as to how successful this particular line up will fare, in spite of what This Guy thinks.
Obviously, I’m no great baseball mind. Seems to me though that this lineup makes more sense:
Ichiro – RF
Chone Figgins – 2B
Jose Lopez – 3B
Milton Bradley – LF
Franklin Gutierrez – CF
Ken Griffey Jr. – DH
Casey Kotchman – 1B
Rob Johson – C
Jack Wilson – SS
Lopez, odds dictate, will be the team’s biggest power threat. Traditionally, that’s where that guy bats in the order: third. Gutierrez, I’m betting, will be the second biggest power threat; therefore it makes sense to bat him 5th, breaking up the two right-handers with lefty Bradley (no slouch at the plate himself, when he’s on). Obviously, barring injuries, 1 and 2 in the order will never change; it’s nice to have something like the top of your line up on lock down. We can always count on those two guys getting on base.
The more I think about it though, the more I’m coming to understand Baker’s projected line up. If Kotchman comes through like we’re all hoping, he’ll be an on-base machine akin to the top two guys in the order. In an ideal world, Ichiro will get an infield single, Figgins will grind out a walk, and Kotchman will either slap the ball into right field (getting an RBI in the process), ground out while getting the runners into scoring position, or walk himself to load the bases.
Now, stay with me here.
In keeping with my Ideal Scenario, Bradley is up to bat either with a run having already scored, 2 on in scoring position, or the bases loaded and no outs. This is almost assuredly an RBI in the bag. The guy can make contact with the ball with the best of ’em. He may not be a traditional home run hitter, but when he’s going good he’s knocking the ball around hard a la Adrian Beltre. In a sense, I think we’ll find it’s like Beltre never left; just switched to the outfield. He’ll hit the ball hard, sometimes right at someone for an out or a double play, but just as often that ball will hit the wall in the outfield for a double. You gotta like that scenario.
That brings up Griffey and say what you want, the guy is a savvy veteran. And if savvy veterans can do anything, they can find a way to get on base. He’ll get enough walks to bring that low average up to respectability with his On Base Percentage. And he’ll hit the occasional home run for you should he stay healthy. But, let’s say in this scenario – after the Bradley double – Griffey walks.
That leaves us with a 3-0 lead and runners at 1st and 2nd. Who should walk to the plate then but our two best home run threats? Lopez and Gutierrez. Best case scenario, Lopez homers over the left field wall and Guti doubles into the gap in Right-Center. 6-0 lead, no outs, runner at 2nd. That brings up Johnson who bunts Guti over to 3rd, followed by Wilson who flys out to center for a 7-0 advantage.
There we are, having batted around, and up comes Ichiro with the icing on the cake: a solo homer to right.
I may be getting a little fanciful in my daydreaming, but the point is, Baker’s projected line up isn’t all that bad. It’s not your traditional fare, but then again this isn’t your traditional team.
And not for nothing, but there’s something to be said about the good vibes this line up is giving off. You instill confidence in Kotchman after he’s bounced around more often than I’m sure he’d like. You make Bradley and Griffey happy by giving them substantial spots. And you protect Lopez and Guti by relieving them of the obligation to Do Too Much. Remember, last year was Guti’s break-out season. He’d never done NEARLY as well at the plate; it would be easy to say, “OK, now you’ve got to hit 25 homers, 100 RBI, and stay above .300; it’s all on you now to carry this offense.” That’s a great way to get a guy to press at the plate and see his numbers totally regress (see: Adrian Beltre in his first year as a Mariner). As for Lopez, in the past he’s tended to Swing for the Fences a little too often. Making him your #6 hitter takes away that burden. At that spot, he’s either got to start off a rally, or keep a good one alive. But, he doesn’t have to knock a homer every time; those will come naturally because he’s quite gifted with the bat in his hands.
Still, that being said, if we see that Ideal Scenario I described above one time this year, I’ll be shocked. Let’s face it, every team could say, “If the Best Possible Scenario happens, we’ll be a lock for the playoffs.” What we’ve got to hope for is to grind out enough runs day in and day out to get by. We’ve got to dominate in 1-run games; meaning our closer will be a cardiac waiting to happen night after night.
Aardsma very well could be the MVP of this season; for indeed he will be the offense’s best friend if he’s dealing. If he goes out and blows a bunch of saves early, watch for this season to quickly unravel.