As Dan mentioned in his post earlier today, spring has sprung on the 2011 baseball season. The Mariners started training camp on Sunday, and we already have stories about Erik Bedard’s loyalty, Felix’s hair, and the return of Ken Griffey Jr. Not bad for three days.
Not many people expect the Mariners to do much this year. A .500 record would be a huge accomplishment, and that still might only get them last place in the division. Luckily, the great thing about spring, and baseball in general, is that it’s easy to dream of everything going right. Baseball players can be so unpredictable that there is always room to see playoffs in the future. Does that hold true with a Mariner team that was worst in the league last year and lost two of its best hitters without adding any certain impact players? Of course it does.
What if Erik Bedard is healthy all season? He could be the second best starter in the league after his teammate Felix. And what if Michael Pineda joins the team early and dominates the whole year? Fister and Vargas might match their early season form from last year, or someone else might surprise, and suddenly the Mariners have one of the best rotations in the league. It could happen.
What if a line-up that had everything go wrong last year has everything go right this year? Chone Figgins could return to 2009 form, getting on base at a 40% clip and wreaking havoc with Ichiro on the bases. Franklin Gutierrez could take the step forward we all hoped to see last year. Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders can blossom into young stars and hit 55 home runs between them. Jack Cust and Milton Bradley can walk like crazy and slug homers and doubles, respectively. The Mariners might even get some production from shortstop and catcher. It’s possible.
My favorite thing to hope on: Dustin Ackley, the great hope for the future of the Mariners’ offense. In my dreams, he breaks camp with the team and works his way quickly to the middle of the order and the all star game, putting up a .340/.400/.475 line, giving his best Buster Posey impression and leading the Mariners to the World Series.
Realistic? Not a chance. Possible? Sure. If the 2010 season went as badly as anyone could have imagined, it’s possible that 2011 could live up to our least likely dreams. Add a significantly improved bullpen and a big trade deadline addition to the line-up (two of the more realistic possibilities here), and the team I just dreamed up could win the World Series. The difference between the best and worst is never that great in baseball, especially when the worst team has guys named Felix and Ichiro and Bedard.
I’m not projecting playoffs. I’m not even projecting a winning season, but it could happen.
The spring is for dreaming. There’s plenty of time to be realistic once the season starts.