Can The Seattle Mariners Compete This Season?

Felix HernandezSpring is upon us. The weather is starting to heat up and the aroma of fresh cut grass has begun to settle in your local neighborhoods. This could only mean one thing, right? Yes. Baseball season is here.

The Seattle Mariners are set to open the 2013 MLB season in Oakland as they take on the Athletics in the first game of a four game series on April 1, 2013. The following week, they will host the Houston Astros in their season home opener at Safeco Field.

The Astros, who are coming over from the National League to join the American League West, should serve as some easier wins for the Mariners this season. The past two seasons, Houston has only managed season totals of 56 and 55 wins. They have finished last in the MLB both of the past two seasons and don’t look to be getting much better.

The Mariners on the other hand have been making strides to get better. They have some great young talented players that they are continuing to build around. A few years from now this Mariners squad could have a top-5 MLB rotation – this is if they can hold on to their pitching prospects.

How Their Rotation Looks Now

Three of the Mariners current pitching prospects have been listed upon many top 100 prospect lists, all of whom have been listed in the top 50 in various lists. Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker, combined with the ace of the staff, “King” Felix Hernandez, can create a lights out rotation for years to come.  

However, all three of these prospects have yet to see any action in the Mariners starting rotation. As the starting rotation looks right now, neither of the guys will make the rotation … yet. Behind King Felix and newly added Joe Saunders, I don’t see anyone as a lock in the projected rotation. They will have a chance to get into the rotation this season as they continue to develop.

Probable Rotation (CBS Sports)

No.

Player

Throws

1.

Felix Hernandez

RH

2.

Joe Saunders

LH

3.

Hisashi Iwakuma

RH

4.

Blake Beavan

RH

5.

Brandon Maurer

RH

Closer

Tom Wilhelmsen

RH

 

What To Watch For

Can the Mariners get run support this season?

They were last in the division in 2012 in runs scored, almost 100 runs behind the third place Athletics (619 runs scored to the Athletics 713). To win games in this division, you have to score runs. The Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers are great offensive teams – you have to try to match them seeing as how hard it is to slow them down. The Athletics had a surprisingly great season last year, both with their pitching and their bats.

This team knew they needed to get better offensively. They attempted to do so this offseason. The Mariners had some key acquisitions with Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse. Also, Raul Ibanez has returned to Seattle for the third time in his career. These three could definitely help out with runs scored.

Before Morales’ grand slam walk-off injury that cut his 2010 season short (where he injured his leg by celebrating), he was playing at a high level. He sent out 34 home runs and totaled 108 RBI in 2009 and had 11 home runs and 39 RBI in the 51 games played in 2010. He started to get back to that form last season in which he had 22 home runs and 73 RBI. If he can get anywhere in between those numbers then he is a solid upgrade from anyone on their roster from a year ago. Whether it is at DH this season or first base, Morales is a solid upgrade and without question he will help their offense.

Michael Morse is a beast. In fact, people (teammates and fans) have already started dubbing his approach to the plate as “beast mode”. Something you Seattle Seahawks fans should know a lot about. Morse stands at a substantial 6’5” 245 lbs. If this guy makes solid contact, you may never see that ball again. He has averaged around 21 home runs over the past three seasons. He has the potential to hit 30 home runs a season if he can stay healthy – which he was able to do in 2011 (31 HR).

Ibanez isn’t projected to be in their starting lineup on an everyday basis. He will see plenty of action, though. If Justin Smoak struggles once again, Morales will likely take first base action and Ibanez could see action at designated hitter. He could also see some action in the outfield as well with any injury or just to give a guy some rest. Ibanez still has some pop, so don’t expect him to be buried on the bench.

Probable Lineup

No.

Player

Pos.

1.

Michael Saunders

RF

2.

Kyle Seager

3B

3.

Kendrys Morales

DH

4.

Michael Morse

LF

5.

Justin Smoak

1B

6.

Jesus Montero

C

7.

Dustin Ackley

2B

8.

Franklin Gutierrez

CF

9.

Brendan Ryan

SS

 

According to CBS Sports’ R.J. White, Mariners manager Eric Wedge may play around with both Michael Saunders and Franklin Gutierrez as their leadoff man. Wedge said, “I like them both there. We haven’t settled into anything, but those are the guys we’re looking at right now.”

So, Can They Compete?

The Angels are by far the best team in the division. They surprisingly couldn’t make playoffs last year, but the addition of Josh Hamilton should take them over the hump. The Angels will take the division this year.

Hamilton will be a big loss for the Rangers. He left Texas only to go to a division rival. Either way, the Mariners will be forced to face him once again.

Their offense will be improved and a lot more fun to watch this season. It is their pitching that will need to take that next step. Someone outside of King Felix needs to emerge as a quality starter. If they can get some solid starts out of their later rotational starting pitchers then they have a real shot at a wild card spot.

I don’t think their quite ready for that. What I hope to see towards the end of the season, or even earlier if one starter struggles, is to see one of these prospects get a shot this season. They’re very close to being ready for major league play. The Mariners should look to get them some starts this season to prepare them for a full season next year.

The Mariners are close, but this isn’t their year. By 2014 this team will be giving the best teams out there a run for their money. They may even make some noise next season as long as prospects Hultzen, Paxton, and/or Walker can get some innings pitched this year. Until then, fans will have to wait. 

Jason Hartzog is on Twitter. Follow him at @JHartsLife

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