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Springtime Storylines: Can the Seattle Mariners score any runs?

Mar 26, 2012, 1:00 PM EST

Seattle Mariners v Chicago Cubs Getty Images

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: the Seattle Mariners.

The Big Question: Can they score any runs?

In case you forgot, the Mariners had a historically bad offense in 2011. They scored 556 runs last year. The other 13 AL teams averaged 735 runs. This was near-deadball era production. It has to get better, right?

Of course it does. And it probably will. The addition of Jesus Montero certainly helps matters. He has always hit and will do so in Seattle as well, even if his raw power numbers are sapped somewhat by the big park in which he now plays.  Having Dustin Ackley around for a whole season and not just 90 games will be helpful too. Justin Smoak should take a step forward. Franklin Gutierrez and Chone Figgins can’t possibly have season as bad as they just had, right? Really, there’s nowhere to go but up for a lot of this roster even if, apart from Montero and Ackley, there is a practical ceiling on the heights they can reach.

People forget that the Mariners were actually holding their own for a time last year, flirting with .500 and even contention before a 17-game losing streak came along and just obliterated everything. No, they’re not as good as they showed before the winning streak, but they won’t be as bad as they showed after it either. And with a somewhat better offense to go along with what seems like it will always be competent pitching in Seattle, the M’s should be pretty respectable for a team most people will pick to finish last.

What else is going on? 

  • We may be seeing the end days of Ichiro. After ten straight  .300 average/200 hit seasons, Ichiro cratered last year, hitting .272 and getting on base at a mere .310 clip.  That has cost him the leadoff position, and now he’ll bat third. Will that change anything? It’s hard to see how. Ichiro is what he is and for all of the good things you can say about him, one thing you can’t necessarily say is that he’s adaptable. If he takes the same old approach and has 2011 results, it may be over for the guy.
  • What’s gonna have a bigger impact: the loss of Michael Pineda or the gain if Jesus Montero?  I’d say this is a net positive for Seattle. Yes, it’s hard to give up a hard-throwing young pitcher like Pineda, but the offensive need was so great for the M’s, that they have to be pleased to have made this tradeoff.  While Seattle doesn’t have anyone as good as Pineda to slot in behind Felix Hernandez, there is a lot of pitching depth on this team and some guys with upside coming up through the system.
  • No matter how they do in the won-loss department, one of the more interesting things to watch this year is whether Montero can catch. The Yankees seemed to think he was hopeless. The Mariners are a bit more optimistic about that, but it’s not as though they’re going to stick him behind the plate all the time. If he can catch at anything approaching a respectable level, his addition means a heck of a lot more than it would if he spent his entire career as a DH.
  • It’s a key year for Justin Smoak. He was expected by many to break out last season, but persona problems (the death of his father) and a nagging thumb injury kept from ever hitting full speed.  Entering his age 25 season, it’s time for Smoak to live up to the hype.

How are they gonna do?

Better, but let’s be real here: this is a last place team. But not a horrible one. And it’s a team with a decent amount of hope going forward and a lot of young arms with promise. It’s nothing to get excited about yet, but at least it’s not something that will create existential dread either.

  1. Old Gator - Mar 26, 2012 at 1:17 PM

    Another tough season ahead for the Crew of the Minnow.

  2. antlerclaws - Mar 26, 2012 at 2:18 PM

    Cheer up, Mariners and A’s! The Astros will be in the AL West next year!

  3. djpostl - Mar 26, 2012 at 2:19 PM

    Their offense will be historically bad…again. Ackley is a slap hitter ( a damn fine one, but he is a slap hitter) and Montero can only do so much.

    Let us put it in perspective. The Phillies‘ much ballyhooed & insanely deep rotation limited its opponents to an OPS of .642. The Seattle Mariners’ OPS was .640. The year before, the Mariners’ OPS was .637.

    When people would joke that the Mariners could make any opposing starter look like a Cy Young winner, they weren’t wrong. On average, that’s basically what they’ve done for two straight seasons.

    There are other comparisons you could choose to make, of course. How about Randy Johnson? Over Randy Johnson’s career, which admittedly took place in a different era, opposing batters posted a .650 OPS. That’s higher than what the Mariners have done.

    As for their future, hope isn’t the word I would use. They have some very high end end arms and not one damn scrap of offense in their system.

    With Texas’ farm system and revenue, the Angels rotation and revenue stream etc…it’s hard to hold much hope for the Mariners in the near future.

    • djpostl - Mar 26, 2012 at 2:36 PM

      Lol a thumbs down from a Mariners homer I see…

      • djpostl - Mar 26, 2012 at 4:55 PM

        One “Up” and eight “Down” yet I still might end up with a better OBP than the Mariners.

    • Reflex - Mar 26, 2012 at 4:54 PM

      I don’t agree with the ‘not a scrap of hitting’ comment about the farm system. Nick Franklin and Trayvon Robinson are both good hitting prospects. And they fill holes that are needed. The real issue with their offense is a lack of depth, right now for this offense to be worth anything they need Montero, Smoak, Robinson, Franklin, Ackley and Carp to *all* live up to their potential. And thats asking for a lot.

      But that said, they still have a ton more pitching depth, more deals of pitching for hitting could be in the offing, especially for the hole at third base(I was hoping they’d take a stab at Ian Stewart myself).

  4. buffalomafia - Mar 26, 2012 at 2:50 PM

    NO!

  5. pitperc - Mar 26, 2012 at 3:01 PM

    “Persona problems” afflict a lot of these Mariners. ;-)

  6. mariner425 - Mar 26, 2012 at 5:16 PM

    ackley is no slap hitter. slap hitters don’t hit homeruns to dead center at safeco(ackley did twice last year). and thanks for the heads up on the mariners farm system, didn’t know you worked for baseball america.

  7. swu32733 - Mar 26, 2012 at 11:13 PM

    Bring in the fences at Safeco!

  8. farvite - Mar 27, 2012 at 10:53 AM

    If the M’s owner wasn’t Japanese, I think Seattle would have seen the end of Ichiro a few years ago.

    But I was thrilled to watch the greatest singles hitter ever.. Especially since he helped score so many runs being at the top of the order…

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