And in 2011 the Mariners teased fans by staying in contention in the AL West until a 17-game losing streak put an end to any hopes of a surprise run in the division.
The team finished last season with just 67 wins, as the club scored the fewest runs, 556 in total, in the AL for the third season in a row. And the Mariners found themselves as the AL West bottom feeders for the sixth time in the last eight seasons.
Now the question is can the Mariners take the positive start from 2011 and stretch it all the way into October?
Let’s take a look…
The big off-season move was a trade to help elevate their weak offense so the Mariners gave away pitching phenom Michael Pineda for New York Yankees promising young catcher, Jesus Montero. Montero’s catching still needs a lot of work but the kid without a doubt can rake and will bring power to the middle of the batting order even if it is as a DH.
The Mariners pitching rotation doesn’t need an ace because they already have a king, in 2010 CY Young winner Felix Hernandez who is one of the best in the game today. King Felix is about to turn 26-years old and has pitched well over 200 innings in his last four seasons. In 2011 the King finished 14-14, with a 3.47 ERA, had five complete games and 222 strikeouts. His 90 earned runs were uncharacteristically high, 27 more than in 2010 but considering the Mariners anemic offense his numbers are quite stellar.
Playing in the AL West with both the Angels and Rangers who both significantly improved during the off-season sets the bar that much higher. While the Mariners did improve too, the fact is they are about two years away from being able to swing in the division.
Bullpen and batting line-up has been a constant weakness, so any improvement will be noticeable but it is doubtful to make the impact needed to make a dent this season.
PLAYER(s)/GAME-CHANGERS TO WATCH:
1) Ichiro Suzuki’s 2011 campaign was the worst in his 11-year career. Finishing with just 184 hits was a first, as Ichiro had never hit less than 200 before. Ichiro also saw his batting average fall to .272, after never going below.300 before in his life. The Mariners really depend on Ichiro’s bat to knock in runs and since he is turning 35-years old in January, there is good reason for higher concern here. He worked hard in the off-season to tweak his swing, but permanent changes tend to be tougher for veterans, like Ichiro, to keep up. Rumor has it that Ichiro will move from leadoff to third in the batting order, which should help. He is the face of the Mariners franchise, and his performance is vital if the team wants to compete in 2012.
2) Chone Figgins has underachieved since coming from the Angels two years ago. Figgins has not seemed to enjoy life in Seattle but the 2009 All-Star needs to try harder. Over the first eight years of his career Figgins had a .291 batting average; and since coming to Seattle two years back it has dropped to .236, which is just unacceptable. Look for Figgins to hit in leadoff this season, just like he used to do for the Angels. Figgins should be more comfortable at this point and all the young guys in Seattle could really benefit from a solid veteran presence.
The reason I did not list any of the young talented Mariners is:
1) There are so many.
2) It is too early to divide and conquer just yet; so the youngsters should be evaluated at the All-Star break and again at the end of 2012.
3) In my opinion, the value of having two veteran players like Ichiro and Figgins play well is a fundamental part of the team’s overall growth.
All the Mariners can hope for in 2012 is that the Seattle fans will hang in there for another marked season of rebuilding.
Showing up at Safeco Field is guaranteed to be tons of fun to see all these young kids progress. Look fact is the future is bright as the Mariners are fueled with young talent in their farm system but 2012 is still too premature. The glass is half-full now, as you can expect the team to win more than 70 games this season.
My prediction is the Mariners will finish with a record of 77-85 in 2012.