A revamped starting rotation that is so good on paper that the staff leader in wins last season begins this campaign as the No. 5 starter headlines the Mariners' pursuit of their first playoff berth since 2001.
The addition of left-hander Erik Bedard via a trade with the Orioles and free-agent right-hander Carlos Silva, has drastically altered a rotation that ranked near the bottom in innings pitched last season. So much, in fact, that 16-game winner Miguel Batista starts the regular season at the bottom of the rotation.
Also ahead of him are right-hander Felix Hernandez, who follows Bedard, and left-hander Jarrod Washburn, who has been slotted between Silva and Batista.
The game plan is for the starters to regularly take games into the seventh inning and then turn it over to the bullpen, which is anchored by All-Star closer J.J. Putz, who registered 40 saves in 42 chances last season.
As sure as the sun comes up in the East and settles in the West, you can count on center fielder Ichiro Suzuki ending the season with 200-something hits. He has accomplished that goal in seven consecutive seasons, and there's no reason why it wouldn't happen again -- although he didn't hit quite as well in Spring Training as he usually does.
With Gold Glove winners in third baseman Adrian Beltre and Ichiro, and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt developing into one of the best defensive players at his position, Seattle can match up with any Major League team on defense. And with the majority of the Mariners' pitchers relying on keeping the ball down, it could be a winning combination.
How well the Mariners do on situational hitting could be the difference between winning and losing the American League West championship. It is imperative to score runners from third base with fewer than two outs, something that didn't happen nearly enough last season.
Projected starting lineup
|1. CF Ichiro Suzuki|
|2. 2B Jose Lopez|
|3. LF Raul Ibanez|
|4. 1B Richie Sexson|
|5. 3B Adrian Beltre|
|6. RF Brad Wilkerson|
|7. DH Jose Vidro|
|8. C Kenji Johjima|
|9. SS Yuniesky Betancourt|
| 1. LHP Erik Bedard|
|2. RHP Felix Hernandez|
|3. RHP Carlos Silva|
|4. LHP Jarrod Washburn|
|5. RHP Miguel Batista|
| Closer: RHP J.J. Putz|
|Setup: RHP Brandon Morrow|
|Setup: LHP Eric O'Flaherty|
|Middle: RHP Sean Green|
|Middle: LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith|
|Long: RHP R.A. Dickey|
You'll know they're rollin' if ...
The starting rotation gets into the seventh or eighth innings on a regular basis, and stellar relievers Brandon Morrow and Putz protect leads the way they did a year ago.
You'll know they're in trouble if ...
Manager John McLaren must change pitchers in the third or fourth inning more often than he anticipated, which would burn out the bullpen just like last season.
A three-game series at Safeco Field against the division rival Angels on April 11-13 could give the Mariners a nice shot of confidence right off the bat.
A three-city Interleague Play road trip in June to Atlanta, New York and San Diego could be one of the most difficult treks of the regular season. All three teams are good, whereas earlier Interleague Play home games against the Nationals and Marlins at Safeco Field could provide a nice liftoff for the rugged nine-game journey. The Marlins are the only Major League team that has not played in Seattle.
The Bottom Line
With the Athletics in a rebuilding year and the Rangers still apparently lacking the pitching to be solid contenders, it looks like the Mariners and Angels will fight it out for the division title. The Mariners must at least hold their own against the Angels, but don't be surprised if both teams advance to the playoffs -- one as the AL West champ and the other as the AL Wild Card.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.