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Seattle Mariners Opening Day Primer

2011 Record: 67-95 Manager: Eric Wedge

The Mariners once again struggled to score runs last season and decided to trade their rookie all star pitcher Michael Pineda to get one of the best hitting prospects in baseball, Jesus Montero. For this lineup to improve and get this team back to .500, Montero and their other young prospects need to grow up in a hurry.

Player in the spotlight: Ichiro Suzuki RF

Ichiro drops to the #3 spot in the batting order as he starts the season at 38. For the first time in his MLB career, Ichiro failed to amass 200 hits on the season. His unbelievable string of 10 consecutive 200 hit seasons ended. With 2428 career hits entering 2012, Ichiro is only 572 hits away from immortality at 3000 hits. That’s an incredible accomplishment for a player who didn’t get his first hit until he was 27 years old.

Biggest question mark in the lineup: Jesus Montero C/DH

Montero is the headline acquisition for the Mariners in the offseason. The M’s thought so highly of him that they trade a pitcher coming off an all star season as a rookie. That makes the expectations for Montero pretty high. He’s expected to develop into a 30+ HR hitter, but what position will he play? He’s still average on his best days behind the plate and one wonders if he’ll ever settle into an everyday role in the field. Perhaps he’ll end up like former Mariners great Edgar Martinez and have a great career as a DH.

Pitcher in the spotlight: Felix Hernandez

The King wasn’t as dominating in 2011 as he had been previously. Perhaps he felt pressure to throw a shutout each game because of the poor run support. Felix enters this season at 26 and remains an annual candidate to win the Cy Young Award. With some of the new offensive talent, maybe Hernandez can pick up a few more wins this season.

Biggest pitching question mark: Hector Noesi

Noesi was the second piece of the Pineda-Montero deal in the winter. Noesi gives the Mariners a chance to really win this trade in a big way if he’s able to develop into a good major league pitcher. If he does it this season, the Mariners have a decent chance of getting to .500 on the season.

Prospect with a chance to make an impact this year: Vinnie Catricala 3B/1B/OF

Catricala has a pretty good power bat and is versatile enough to play a few positions. If he adjusts quickly to AAA, he could end up in Seattle by the end of the summer, especially if Chone Figgins doesn’t revive his career.

Prediction: 4th in AL West

The Mariners are an intriguing mix of young hitting talent and a pitching rotation that could develop into a top 3 rotation in the AL. But that’s probably a year away at the soonest for the Mariners faithful. This season, the M’s will need to find a way to gradually improve their offense and develop a core of 4-5 everyday players who are going to lead this team into the future. If they do that and pitch well, this team could surprise some and get to around .500. If their offense doesn’t start to come around, the Felix trade rumors will begin en force and the Mariners front office will begin to feel the heat for a rebuilding effort that is going on 10 years with only 2 winning seasons.

MLB Daily Balk Morning Rundown 4/20

Enter Sandman, Exit Loss

Best of Yesterday April 19

James Shields crafted a complete game victory for the Rays over the White Sox. Shields gave up only 4 hits, 1 BB, and 1 run while getting 9 strikeouts in the 2-1 win. The Rays have now won 8 of 11 and only trail the Yankees by 2 games in the AL East.

The Brewers pitchers shut out the Phillies at Citizens Bank. Starter and ex-Phillie Randy Wolf went 6 innings giving up only 2 hits and 3 walks while striking out 5.

Jake Arrieta led the Orioles pitchers in shutting out the Twins at Camden Yards. Arrieta’s battery mate, Matt Wieters drove in 4 of the O’s 11 runs. Buck Showalter was impressed with Wieters.

Travis Snider broke his bat over his knee last night before hitting the game winning double in the 10th inning to give the Blue Jays a 6-5 win over the Yankees.

Ryan Roberts of the Diamondbacks blasted two homers, drove in 3 runs, and even stole a base in the D’backs 5-4 win over the Reds. Roberts is now hitting .382 on the season and might not even be in the majors if Geoff Blum hadn’t been injured before opening day.

The Marlins Josh Johnson continues to establish his Cy Young credentials during the first month of the season as he threw 7 scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 1.00 on the season. His 9 strikeouts give him a 27-6 K-BB ratio in 27 innings this season.

Rookie 1B Mike Trumbo delivered his 3rd homer and drove in 4 runs in the Angels rout of the Rangers on Tuesday night. Rangers starter Colby Lewis and the rest of their pitchers were feeling labor pains throughout this one.

Royals starting pitching Bruce Chen went to 3-0 on the season after giving up 2 runs in 7 innings in the Royals 5-4 win over the first place Indians on Tuesday night. Chen’s ERA is now at 2.42 and the Royals are 11-6 and one game behind the Tribe in the AL Central.

Panda time as Pablo Sandoval took Ubaldo Jimenez deep in the first inning for a 3-run homer as the Giants beat the Rockies 6-3 on Tuesday night. There are only two games separating the teams in the NL West now.

The Athletics Brett Anderson was spectacular in their win over the Red Sox on Tuesday night. Anderson won his first game by shutting out the Sox for 8 innings, giving up only 4 hits, 1 walk and he had 8 strikeouts. His ERA is now 1.63 on the season.

Ichiro and Chone Figgins combined to go 7 for 9 and steal 3 bases at the top of the order for the Mariners in their 13-3 win over the Tigers on Tuesday night.

What Happened Yesterday?

Mariano Rivera showed that he was human as the Yankees iconic closer as he blew his first save opportunity of the season on Tuesday night in Toronto. The usually immaculate Rivera walked one and gave up four hits in the 9th inning and only a brilliant double play initiated by 3B Eric Chavez kept Mo from losing his first game.

Terry Francona got tossed for the first time this season in the Red Sox 5-0 loss at Oakland. Francona was arguing a, you guessed it, a balk that wasn’t called on A’s pitcher Brett Anderson in the 4th inning when Dustin Pedroia was picked off first base.

Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero is hitting a gaudy .380 so far this season. But the backstop committed his fifth error of the season against the Reds on Tuesday night. There’s no DH in the National League to hide your glove, Miguel.

The Dodgers entered the top of the 9th inning against the Braves down 2-1 and hoping for another walk off win. Unfortunately, Dodgers relievers Kenley Jansen and Ramon Troncoso didn’t get the memo and gave up 8 runs between them in the inning. That’s going to leave a mark on their ERAs for awhile.

The Daily Balk’s Take

Geoff Baker writes that the Mariners won’t be trading ace Felix Hernandez this season, but might entertain that possibility during the winter or next season.

  • The bottom line here is that Felix is 25 years old and under contract through the 2014 season for very palatable salaries. The Mariners, or any team, would be foolish to trade a pitcher of this quality and value until they know if their young talent is going to pan out for them. If the young players don’t improve enough for the Mariners to contend by the end of the 2013 season, then maybe the Mariners could look to deal Felix. Until then, it just doesn’t make practical sense.

 

AL News/Notes

Sam Fuld of the Rays has led them to an 8-4 record since moving into the leadoff spot. The once 0-6 Rays are now right back into the AL East race at only 2 games behind the Yankees. Rays manager Joe Maddon even believes that Fuld is playing defense better than Carl Crawford in left field.

Tyson Ross will take over for the injured Dallas Braden in the Athletics rotation. Ross pitched well in spring training and almost won the fifth starter’s job. Ross is ranked by Baseball America as the A’s 4th ranked prospect and if he pitches well, could join the rotation fulltime or become a trade piece for GM Billy Beane to use to improve the offense in June or July.

The A’s are 26-22 against the Red Sox since 2006. That’s the best in the AL over that time period.

First baseman Kila Ka’aihue of the Royals is only hitting .151 this season in 15 games. With top prospect Eric Hosmer off to a quick start in Omaha, Ka’aihue’s days in KC could be numbered.

NL News/Notes

Starting pitchers for the Pirates, Kevin Correia and Charlie Morton have combined for the most complete games in April, 2, by the Pirates staff since 1992. The 92 Bucs won the NL East and lost to the Braves in the NLCS in Barry Bonds last season in Pittsburgh.

The Cubs and Padres will play a day-night doubleheader at Wrigley on Wednesday after Tuesday night’s rainout.

Crazy weather in St. Louis sets up a doubleheader on Wednesday at Busch between the Nationals and Cardinals. This will be a day-night doubleheader like the Cubs and Padres.

Ike Davis of the Mets has been in the majors for a year now.

“Five Finger” Mike Leake of the Reds is still scheduled to make his start on Thursday despite his legal issues from Monday.

David Hernandez and JJ Putz have stabilized the 8th and 9th innings for the Diamondbacks. Last year, the D’backs were historically bad.

Opposing hitters are batting .524 against the Braves Tim Hudson in the first inning this season. Hudson has yielded 7 runs in the first inning and only 6 runs for all of the other innings combined. Also, Hudson’s pitch in the vicinity of Jerry Sands’ head on Monday night was a purpose pitch. But Hudson signed a ball for him after the game.

Cody Ross is back with the Giants but was not activated for Tuesday’s game at Colorado. He should be in the lineup on Wednesday.

Brandon Belt of the Giants turns 23 on Wednesday and could get a plane ticket to Fresno as a “gift” from manager Bruce Bochy.

Streak of the Day

The Royals Wilson Betemit and Alex Gordon both extended their career long hitting streaks to 11 and 13 games respectively.

Top Wednesday Matchups

3:10 EDT Giants (Cain 2-0, 1.42) at Rockies (De La Rosa 2-0, 3.18)

3:35 EDT Red Sox (Buchholz 0-2, 6.60) at Athletics (Gonzalez 2-0, 0.47)

8:05 EDT Angels (Weaver 4-0, 1.30) at Rangers (Harrison 3-0, 1.23)

8:10 EDT Indians (Masterson 3-0, 1.33) at Royals (Hochevar 2-1, 4.21)

8:15 EDT Nationals (Zimmerman 1-2, 2.45) at Cardinals (Garcia 2-0, 1.35)

Last night’s balks: 1 – Bobby Parnell of the Mets against the Astros

Seattle Mariners Opening Day Overview

Seattle Mariners Opening Day Overview

Manager: Eric Wedge     GM: Jack Zduriencik

  Lineup:
1 RF Ichiro Suzuki
2 3B Chone Figgins
3 LF Milton Bradley
4 DH Jack Cust
5 1B Justin Smoak
6 C Miguel Olivo
7 CF Ryan Langerhans/Franklin Gutierrez
8 SS Brendan Ryan
9 2B Jack Wilson

 

Ichiro has led the AL in hits 7 of the 10 season he’s been in Seattle. Despite leading the AL last year, his averages dropped and the Mariners are going to need him to get back to his normal levels to make a surprise run at the AL West title. He had an OPS of only .753 last season and a return to his career average of .806 is what the Mariners need.

Figgins was signed away from the rival Angels and all of his production declined both offensively and defensively. He’s back at third base this season after playing at second last year and the Mariners hope that his bat reverts back to 2009 form as well. Figgins hit a career low .256 last year and slugged an atrocious .306, which is .070 points below his career average. The M’s need him to go back to being that dynamic top of the order hitter who gets on back to walking more and taking advantage of the size of Safeco to leg out extra base hits.

The Mariners are hoping that Bradley can stay in control this season, first and foremost. When focused on the game, Bradley is a talented hitter with solid power that can drive in runs. Last season he only hit .205 for the M’s. All the Mariners need again is an average season out of Bradley. He’s has a career .809 OPS that highlights a very good ability to draw walks. That kind of production would be just fine for first year manager Eric Wedge.   

Cust comes over from the A’s and can’t help but improve the atrocious production that the Mariners received last season at DH. Cust is an on-base machine as his .378 career OBP with only a .245 AVG would indicate. He’s shown very good power as well before last year’s drop off. With a solid pitching performance, the Mariners are just asking for another average season where Cust can exceed a .800 OPS and create some runs.

Smoak was the key part of the Cliff Lee trade to the Rangers last summer. He struggled in his rookie season last year after coming through the minors at an accelerated pace. He’s got good power potential and showed an ability to walk in the minors. If he can hit above .260 and get over 50 extra base hits, the Mariners should be satisfied with the results.

Olivo has bounced around over the years and the 32 year old is a solid receiver who has shown some good power in his various stops. This is his second stop in Seattle and the Mariners hope that it goes better this time. If he produces like he has over the past 5 seasons, then the Mariners should be happy. He’s averaged about 16 HRs and hit in the .250s during that time.

Langerhans is the injury replacement for Gutierrez. Hopefully for the Mariners, they don’t have to go with Langerhans that long because the only contribution that he makes offensively is by walking. Gutierrez dropped off last season after hitting well in 2009 after coming over from the Indians. In 2009, he hit 18 HRs and batter .283 while getting an OPS of .764. While that isn’t a great OPS, it’s pretty decent for a very good defensive centerfielder that hits mostly in a pitcher’s park.

Ryan is the temporary shortstop for this season and maybe a little next year before top prospect Nick Franklin makes it up to Safeco. Ryan comes over from the Cardinals where he hit well every other year. With his average being better during odd years, the Mariners can only hope for a return to his .292 of 2009. If not, then 2B Jack Wilson can slide over when Dustin Ackley comes up to play second.

Wilson is now at second warming the seat for the Mariners #1 prospect Dustin Ackley. With $5M coming his way this year, Wilson could be traded if he shows any ability to hit. He only played in 61 games last season and the 33 year old veteran of losing teams probably won’t last the season at 2B in Seattle. The best case scenario for the Mariners would be a hot start by Wilson followed by a call from a team needing a middle infielder.

  Starting Pitching
1 RHP Felix Hernandez
2 LHP Jason Vargas
3 RHP Doug Fister
4 LHP Eric Bedard
5 RHP Michael Pineda

 

Felix was the 2010 Cy Young winner in Seattle despite not winning. Nobody in the AL had better numbers than the King last year. With some decent run support, an encore performance could earn Felix 18-20 wins and another Cy Young.

Vargas pitched decently in his first full season with the Mariners. He’s not a future star, but he was able to compile a 2-1 K-BB ratio and give up less than a homer per game. If he can do that again this season with better run support, he might win 12-14 games.

Fister defied the percentages for awhile last season as he was surprisingly among the league leaders in ERA in May, but came back to Earth as the season progressed. Without any hard stuff it’s tough to imagine Fister being anything better than an average performer in this rotation. He’s probably going to be targeted for replacement by one of their top prospects if gets hit hard early. The Mariners would be thrilled if he could repeat last season’s performance and win double digit games with more run support.

Bedard was expected to be a top of the rotation starter when the Mariners got him from the Orioles before 2008. But Bedard hasn’t been healthy and missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. If he can come close to the pitcher that he was in Baltimore during 2006 and 2007, then the Mariners are a legitimate threat in the AL West. He won 28 games over those two seasons and led the AL in ERA in 2007 with a 2.71. His combined numbers in Seattle have been solid, but he hasn’t started more than 15 games in a season. If he can provide at least 4 months of pitching the way he’s pitched over his career, then he can win 10-12 games and help the Mariners stay in contention.

Pineda is the Mariners top pitching prospect and will be the 5th starter. He’s got explosive stuff as he’s been clocked at over 100 MPH. He pitched well but dealt with some bad luck at AAA last year after dominating the first half at AA. He’s good enough to enter the AL ROY conversation if he stays the whole season, keeps his ERA under 3.50 and wins 12-14 games. That’s all doable if the offense helps out.

  Bullpen
CL RHP Brandon League/David Aardsma(DL)
SET RHP Chris Ray
  RHP Josh Lueke
  LHP Aaron Laffey
  RHP David Pauley
  RHP Jamey Wright
  RHP Tom Wilhelmsen

 

Aardsma starts the season on the DL and League will fill in. Aardsma will miss the first few weeks with a hip injury. Aardsma brings the heat and has done well in two seasons with the Mariners. His 2-1 K-BB ratio is nice, but if he could lower the walks and increase that ratio to 3 to 1, then he could enter the top echelon of closers. League has a great split finger pitch that helped him strikeout better than one per inning. He struggled a little last year but a return to his 2009 numbers would be huge for the Mariners, especially with Aardsma’s issues.

Ray pitched well for the Giants and Rangers last year and won a ring. He was a solid closer with the Orioles before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2007. He improved in his second year back last season and could be a valuable contributor in the 7th and 8th innings this season.

Lueke has a world of talent but has had problems in the past. If he’s able to put it together on the mound, he’s got the potential to be a top closer some day.

Laffey is a lefty who will probably be called upon to be a situational reliever. Pauley pitched decently last season in the rotation and could return there if there are some issues. Otherwise he’s probably in the middle relief group and can do long relief as well. Wright is a veteran righty and will used in long relief. Wilhelmsen is an older prospect who once retired for four years after being suspended for a season in the Brewers organization. He’s 27 now, he’s big, and he throws hard. The Mariners are intrigued enough to see if they can find him a role.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 2B Dustin Ackley
2 LHP Maurecio Robles
3 RHP Dan Cortes

 

Ackley is a big time hitter who’s adequate as a fielder. He was drafted as a first baseman and might end up back there someday. He should be up by June as he’s most likely in the minors to avoid early arbitration. Robles is a top starting prospect who could get the call if he’s impressive at AAA and they need to upgrade the rotation. Cortes is a potential closer who could be called upon if there’s problems in the pen.

Three Questions:

1. Can the Mariners score a run this season?

  • That’s a joke, but seriously the Mariners had incredible difficulty generating offense last season and the biggest indication of that was 13 game winner Felix Hernandez taking home the Cy Young award. Never before had a starter win the award with so few victories. The good news is that almost their entire prospective lineup performed worse than their career averages and they should expect a correction to their averages, right?

2. Can the Mariners young pitchers make them the surprise team of 2011?

  • The Mariners have young Michael Pineda as their 5th starter and a couple of other young arms in the bullpen. In addition, they have a really good starting prospect in Robles and a good reliever with Cortes who could contribute as well. Remember, Felix is only 25. This young group could develop quickly and help the Mariners get back on top quickly.

3. Will the constant calls (on the east coast) for Felix to be traded subside?

  • It seems like a day doesn’t go by where either people in Boston or New York aren’t coming up with ridiculous trade proposals to bring Felix Hernandez to their town. What those people don’t realize is that it’s completely unrealistic since Felix is signed through 2014. Why would anybody who can afford his contract, which the Mariners can, trade the best young pitcher in baseball?

 

Projection

The Mariners have loads of upside especially if their lineup can perform to their career averages. It might sound obvious, but everybody on last year’s team performed well below their typical levels and it resulted in an atrocious offensive output. In addition, if the Mariners can work some of their young pitching into the mix, they might have enough depth to deal for some more offense at the trade deadline. While it’s going to take good seasons by a lot of their players, the Mariners have a realistic chance at winning in the mid to high 80s and being in contention for the AL West title.