Seattle, also called the Emerald City, is known for many things such as having a great seaport, lush landscapes and incredible coffee. However, this city was also recently named the most miserable sports city in North America. The forecast for the 2011 Mariners is predictably overcast with a very slim chance of a postseason appearance.
Seattle only has one professional sports champion on its resume, the NBA’s 1979 Supersonics squad, and that franchise bolted town for Oklahoma City in 2008. Meanwhile the Seahawks became the first NFL team in history to earn a playoff spot with a losing record, capturing the abysmal NFC West last year with a 7-9 record.
The Mariners stumbled their way to the second-worst record in baseball last year (thank you Pittsburgh), and trailed first-place Texas in the American League West standings by 29 games. Seattle accumulated 101 losses by going a lackluster 35-46 at Safeco Field, and 26-55 when playing on the road. The Mariners were 34 games out of the wild-card chase, and face long odds of making any serious moves on this year’s postseason.
Seattle is currently a 60/1 selection to win the AL pennant, ahead of only Cleveland and Kansas City at 100/1. The Mariners are also a dismal 125/1 to win the World Series, ahead of only the Indians (200/1), Royals (200/1) and Pirates (500/1). Seattle has a futures win total of 71.5 (minus 130), which would be a 10-game improvement from last year’s 61-101 campaign.
Finding bright spots for the Seattle Mariners might be as hard as locating a cloudless day in the Pacific Northwest, but there are a few rays of sunshine. Starting pitcher Felix Hernandez (13-12, 2.27 ERA) won the AL Cy Young Award despite getting the worst run support of any AL pitcher.
The right-hander received a league-low 3.1 runs per game last year, but he did lead the majors in innings pitched, ERA, opponents’ batting average and quality starts. The Venezuela native ranked second in strikeouts, and third in complete games.
Right-fielder Ichiro Suzuki has now collected 200 hits a season the past 10 years, and recorded 42 stolen bases in 2010. However the Japanese import is now 37 years old, but he should continue to thrive playing small ball at spacious Safeco Field.
There are plenty of question marks behind Hernandez in both the starting rotation and bullpen. Southpaw Jason Vargas secured nine victories last year in his best big-league season, benefitting from playing in a pitcher-friendly park. Erik Bedard is a talented left-handed pitcher, but he has not been able to stay healthy and be a stable force in the rotation.
Seattle does have some pitching prospects, but these players will probably take their lumps behind an anemic offense. Right-handed power-pitcher Michael Pineda would still be a Triple-A project for teams with a solid rotation, but he figures on contributing to the Mariners as the fourth or fifth starter. Doug Fister enjoyed a solid start to last year before fading down the stretch, while Luke French might split time between starting and the bullpen.
Speaking of the relievers, even the lone commodity is a question mark heading into the season. David Aardsma is the established closer, but the right-hander is still recovering from hip surgery. If he returns and pitches like he did last season, expect Aardsma to be traded to a contender. Righty Brandon League figures on inheriting the closers role until Aardsma returns, but he is better suited as a setup man.
While Seattle ranked 10th in team pitching last year, the offense finished dead last with a .236 batting average. The Mariners managed just 513 runs and 101 home runs, with 459 walks and 1184 strikeouts.
Behind Suzuki, the offense will need a spark from somewhere. The Seattle brass is hoping that third baseman Chone Figgins can rebound from a disastrous 2010 season, and contribute near the top of the order.
The middle of the lineup features Franklin Gutierrez, Jack Cust and Justin Smoak, not exactly Murderers Row. There is potential with these guys, but there will also be plenty of growing pains throughout the summer. This team will have to win low scoring games through pitching and defense, so don’t expect a lot of slugfests from the Mariners.
Seattle has some prospects and one of baseball’s best young arms in Hernandez, but this team will take its lumps and not be a serious contender in the foreseeable future. Expect the Mariners to again battle for the AL West basement, and to wager ‘under’ their season win total of 71 games.
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