As I stated yesterday, we’re going to run the gamut this weekend, from the highest highs to the lowest lows. We’ll start with the happy times, because this afternoon in Seattle can’t be any more beautiful, and by golly I feel great!
Now, before we get too deep into this, I’m going to warn you that there won’t be any logic to this thing. I’m not going to pull any numbers out of my ass to make my argument. This thing is coming straight from my gut. As I’ve said before, sometimes crazy shit just happens. Everyone tries to give their predictions about how a season is going to unfold, but no one is ever 100% correct. There are always a handful of surprises, and with this Mariners team, that’s exactly what it’s going to be.
For starters, just about everything is going to have to go right for us. That doesn’t just mean a team full of players out-performing their projections, but it also means other teams under-performing theirs.
Obviously, the Mariners don’t HAVE to win their division to guarantee a spot in the playoffs, but it would be awfully nice. As I see it, the Angels are our primary target. It’s hard to discount the Rangers, but you can’t deny that they’ve lost some major pieces. I just feel like their time has come and now they’re on the downside of their prime. Let’s face it, the way they gagged the division away last season doesn’t bode well for their chances in 2013. And as for the A’s, I’m not buying them for one minute. They played out of their minds and you’re looking at a LOT of regression in 2013.
So, let’s focus on the Angels. They’re stacked, no doubt about it. But, they are far from the perfect team. Josh Hamilton had a crappy second half to his 2012, which was one of any number of reasons many Mariners fans didn’t want him signed to Seattle. I think he’ll still be good in 2013, but I’m far from convinced he will put up a full season of All Star-quality play. He’s a strikeout machine and when he slumps, he’s as bad as anyone the Mariners have had in their lineups the past few seasons. Combine that with the pressure of signing that insane contract, playing in front of a new fanbase (who will surely have a short leash on a guy they’ve grown to despise over the last few seasons as he was a Ranger), and if he gets off to a slow start, that could very well snowball into a mediocre season.
Their other big thumper is Albert Pujols. He got off to one of the all-time pisspoor starts last season, but managed to turn it around to put up overall quality numbers. I mean, there’s no way anyone is going to mock 50 doubles and 30 homers; they have S.T.U.D. written all over them. But, you know, he’s getting up there. In 12 full seasons in the Majors, he’s never missed any extended time due to injury. What are the odds that continues in his unlucky 13th season? I wouldn’t wish injury on anyone, but let’s face it: an extended stint on the DL would be a big boost to the Mariners’ chances.
Obviously, Trout is the best player in baseball right now, so even if Pujols goes down (as I suspect he might), and even if Hamilton struggles (which is entirely possible), and even if Trumbo continues his backslide into obscurity (which is highly likely), Trout & Friends would still keep this team in contention through the end of the season. But, he can’t do everything. Their starting pitching is pretty scrubby after Weaver, so let’s just hope they don’t have what it takes to take games into the later innings. Bad starters will tax a bullpen, which all spells doom for the Angels’ chances.
There. Consider the window officially open (by my very specious argument). Now, what are the Mariners going to do to make their division-winning dreams a reality?
First thing’s first: this is officially the year where Justin Smoak figures it the fuck out. His added muscle, his shorter swing, his level-headed mindset: they’re all going to come into play. He’s going to come out of the gates crushing the ball! And those closed-in fences in left and left center are going to provide additional extra base hits. What once were warning-track outs will now bounce off the wall for doubles (or occasionally slip on over them for home runs). Success is going to beget success as Smoak’s confidence will soar; in short, he will be the big, impressive first baseman we all thought we were getting when we traded Cliff Lee for him. His 2013 will be a revelation, and it will be just the beginning of a long and fabulous career.
Which brings us to Jesus Montero. Montero wasn’t terrible last year in his first full season in the Majors. He hit .260, knocked in 20 doubles and 15 homers. He got his feet wet as a catcher. Maybe not an everyday catcher, but he wasn’t ready to be an everyday catcher yet. Now, he’s had that offseason where he learned how to run. Oh, you heard that right. When Eric Wedge and company sent him off for his offseason to train, they gave him one primary objective: get better at running. Now, nobody is saying that he’s going to be the speediest guy in the world, but you have to figure if he put in the work, he’s going to be in much better shape with regards to conditioning. That extra conditioning should work wonders for his stamina over the course of a gruelling regular season. On top of that, he’s working within a defined role: Jesus Montero IS your everyday backstop. No more being bounced around from catcher to DH to bench. He’s going to play the regular allotment of games as a catcher (probably somewhere in the 120 to 130-game range), he’s going to be backed up by a quality veteran in Shoppach, and with that full rookie season under his belt, he should be much more comfortable in his standing with the team.
All of that spells GREAT things for Montero the batsman. He knows what it takes to be a Major League catcher, he’s had some experience, he’s been given the job of a lifetime out of Spring Training, so all he has to do now is hit. Which shouldn’t be a problem for him, because he’s not going to have the weight of the world on his back in that regard either.
Thanks to guys like Morse and Morales, guys like Smoak and Montero won’t be shoe-horned into the heart of the lineup like they were in the past. They’ll bat 5th, 6th, or 7th. They don’t have to be THE guys who knock in all the runs. They can sit back, relax, and just focus on putting bat to ball.
People would make you think it’s all so simple, but I’m a firm believer in the “protection” theory. Baseball is almost entirely a mental game. If you’re constantly worried, being bowled over with pressure to try to be The Man all the time, you’re just setting yourself up for failure. Everyone expects the #3 and #4 hitters in a lineup to be the big swinging dicks. No one expects the #6 and #7 hitters to do squat! So, when you get good production out of those spots in the lineup, that’s just an added bonus.
Speaking of which: Morales and Morse! Hot damn! I know everyone is anticipating the Mariners trying to trade one or both of these guys at the deadline, but I’ve got news for you: they’re not going anywhere! We’re going to get big-boy production out of these two guys, and we’re going to hang onto them for the stretch run into the playoffs. Minimum: 50 home runs between them. You gotta love these guys!
So, those are your four big boppers. They’re all going to be real and they’re all going to be spectacular. Now, we just have to get guys on base ahead of them so they can bulk up on all those RBIs.
Seager, I’m looking at you, buddy! You’re the wild card in this whole thing. You too had a pretty solid year in 2012, but we’re going to need more! I know you picked up a lot of the slack for a punchless lineup, with your 20 homers, 35 doubles, and 86 RBI, but your on-base percentage was only a paltry .316. That’s got to go WAY up. Like, at least another 50 points. We don’t NEED you to be a 20-homer guy. But, we need you to get on base a ton. From the sounds of things, Wedge might start you out batting somewhere in that 5-6-7 spot in the lineup. But, I fully expect you to play the bulk of your games in the 2-hole. You are tailor MADE for the 2-hole (no Mind in the Gutter guy). You’ve hit for good average at every level. We’re going to need you to bat near or above .300, and we’re going to need your patience at the plate to result in lots more walks. Look, you’re going to have big thumpers hitting behind you, so you should get some pitches to hit. Then again, they might try to get too cute with you and avoid the plate altogether. Do your thing, Seager, and I guarantee you’ll score 100 runs this season.
The other big ‘un is going to be our leadoff tandem. Against a right-handed pitcher, we’ll see Michael Saunders. Against a left-handed pitcher, we’ll see Guti. Saunders, you took a big step forward last season. But, like Seager, we’re going to need to see MORE out of you. Like Seager, we don’t necessarily need you to be a 20-homer guy. Like Seager, you’re going to need to be much more patient at the plate. Unlike Seager, we’re going to need you to be even MORE aggressive on the basepaths. You had 21 stolen bases last year. Let’s get over 30 in 2013, huh? I think you can do it.
As for Guti, repeat after me: “I will not go on the disabled list! I will stay healthy all season long! I will return to my 2009 form! And I will bang 50,000 chicks over the next six months!” Also, Guti, wrap it up. It would be just like you to miss some games with an STD. We don’t need that!
Brendan Ryan won’t be as bad at the plate as he was in 2012. He will bat over .225. He will stay healthy. And he will win another Fielding Bible Award when it’s all said and done.
So, that just leaves Dustin Ackley. He took a bit of a step back. Tried to bite off more than he could chew. But, that’s okay. He’s got a year and a half under his belt. He’s tasted sweet success and he’s suffered bitter defeat. He’s also had surgery to remove bone spurs from … some body part I can’t remember right now. By all accounts, that was hampering his ability to … do good things … so with that out of the way, it’s all blue skies from here on out! Wedge has dumped him near the bottom of the lineup, so really he has ZERO pressure on him. As long as we keep it that way for a few months, he very well could earn his way back up the lineup.
Then again, with how well this lineup is going to kick ass, there probably won’t be any ROOM for him to move up! Move over 1927 Yankees, because here’s the 2013 Mariners! And they … they’re going to hit some balls too!
It’s unthinkable to come on here and say the Starting Rotation of all things will be the biggest question mark on the 2013 Mariners (I mean, have you SEEN these hitting numbers from the past few seasons?), but that’s exactly what I’m saying. And I’m saying that knowing full well that Felix Hernandez is the best pitcher alive. But, fear not M’s fans, because this rotation won’t let you down!
First and foremost, Felix is GOING to win the Cy Young Award this year. So, know that. He’s also going to win 20 games in a season for the first time in his career. Good for him!
Iwakuma is going to build on his splendid second half to dominate for the full 2013. Saunders is going to do Saunders-like things, keep us in most ballgames, and win more than he loses. Beavan, I’m not gonna lie to you, he WILL surprise a lot of people. His new throwing motion is going to generate more ground balls. His ancillary pitches will generate more strikeouts. And he’s going to stick with the big ballclub all year long.
Here’s a switch: look for the Mariners to go to a 6-man rotation in the last couple months! Erasmo Ramirez will most certainly earn his way back to the Majors, but he’s not going to bump anyone out because Brandon Maurer is going to light the world on fire! He will officially be a #5 starter, but he will in reality be our second-best starting pitcher. In an effort to conserve his innings-count, the Mariners will bring up Ramirez to spell him, so we can stretch him out to a full season (before we shut him down for the playoffs and give Ramirez his spot in the rotation). It’s all going to be good with the starters.
Which will pretty much guarantee us the division, because this bullpen is going to be lights out! Wilhelmsen will have a sub-1 ERA for most of the first half and earn his way into the All Star Game. Capps will show everyone why he’s the next great closer of this generation. And everyone else will fill their roles perfectly.
95 wins. That’s what it’s going to take to win the AL West, and that’s exactly what the Mariners will do. 95-67. They’ve got a fairly tough first month, but they’re going to be a couple games over .500 when it’s all said and done. They’re really going to start turning it on in early May and be one of the hottest teams going into the All Star Break. August will be a bit of a test – the Angels might even pull even with us for the division lead. But, in September we will break away from the pack and cruise on into the playoffs.
From there, it’s every man for himself. But, I like any team’s chances in a short series when you’re looking at Felix Hernandez pitching twice. Felix Hernandez. In his first ever playoff game. I won’t deny it, I MIGHT
cry a little bit blubber like a little baby.
Team of destiny, baby.