Hernandez, Mariners Ready for October
The only drought that has lasted longer than the one on the West Coast is that of the Seattle Mariners and ace Felix Hernandez, who haven’t played in October since 2001. They were so close to ending that drought last year, but fell a game shy of ending what feels like a lifetime of dry winters. While they have lost some pitching from last year’s club (Chris Young and Joe Biemel are still free agents), they did add a power hitter in OF Nelson Cruz. With the addition of Cruz and his 40 HRs and 100 RBIs from last season as added production (most likely as a DH), 2B Robinson Cano will most likely see more pitches to hit this season, which will only add to the positive production that he had in 2014.
The crazy part about the M’s is that they seem to function in cycles of clustered winning or losing seasons. Losing season after losing season from 1977-1994 (a couple of winning seasons were present in this stretch), and a cluster of winning seasons from 1995-2007, with a few inept seasons sprinkled in there as well. If the Mariners continue this trend, they should be posting winning seasons in bunches over the next seven to ten years.
What Makes 2015 the Year for the Mariners?
• As I said earlier in this post, the addition of Nelson Cruz will do wonders for this club in 2015, as well as provide Cano with some protection. Cano was walked 61 times (20 intentional) in 2014, but with the added power of Cruz this offseason that number will decrease, assuming Cruz makes teams pay for pitching around Cano in 2015.
• Seattle has also added some depth to their outfield with other players like Seth Smith (Padres) and Justin Ruggiano (Cubs), to go with Dustin Ackley and Austin Jackson. The M’s outfield should be able to provide better defense than it has in recent memory. Cruz should be included in the conversation, but he will most likely be the everyday DH for the club.
• Pitching is perhaps the strongest aspect of this Seattle club. Felix Hernandez came up just short of winning another AL Cy Young award in 2014, and the “King’s Court” was thrilled with how great he pitched last season. Add to that, his hunger and desire to break the playoff drought will only fuel his production this season, and I think that it is safe to say that he will win 20 games and have over 250 strikeouts in his 2015 campaign. Teams also can’t forget that they have to face Iwakuma, Paxton, Walker, and J.A. Happ (Blue Jays).
• The bullpen was strong in 2014 as well, and provided the M’s the ability to use their relief pitchers for strategy, extended innings, and to shut down big bats in opponents lineups; everything that you would hope for in a bullpen. They posted a league-best ERA (2.60), and are projected to be in the Top 3 for bullpen production in 2015.
Concerns for the Mariners in 2015
• While Seattle did add depth to its outfield, there are still concerns as to whether or not they will provide enough offensive production in 2015. This concern seems to be a yearly one, and the Mariners have struggled with offensive production for years.
• Player health is always a concern, for any MLB team, but Seattle seemed to keep the injury bug at arm’s length in 2014. If an injury were to hit the starting pitchers or bullpen, Seattle might find itself on the bad end of a losing streak, unless the offense can produce higher better than it has in recent memory.
• The strength of the AL West as a whole. The Oakland A’s thought that they would have a mini fire sale, but they did add a couple of key pieces in Ben Zobrist (Rays), Brett Lawrie (Blue Jays), and Billy Butler (Royals). The Texas Rangers should be healthier in 2015, but it is too early to see how much of an impact Josh Hamilton’s unfortunate relapse will have on the clubhouse. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will be deadly as usual, but the Mariners do have the pitching to counter the Angels potent lineup. The Houston Astros have also made some progress this offseason, and seem destined to shed their “cellar dweller” reputation.
Seattle should build upon their winning record from last season (87-75), and I expect Manager Lloyd McClendon to show his brilliance for the second consecutive season. I project the Mariners will reach the 90-win plateau, and end up with a solidified spot as one of the AL Wild Card teams. Assuming they win the Wild Card play-in game, this team will be a force to be reckoned with come October.
As the great Dave Niehaus once said, “Get out the rye bread and mustard Grandma, cause it’s Grand Salami Time!”
Dustin Brown covers the Seattle Mariners for MFST, and you can follow him on Twitter @SprtsWritingMan.