The Mariners are only 13 games, or 8% into their 2012 campaign. It is hard to make many conclusions yet, other than the obvious ones like Ackley is a budding star, and Olivo should be in another profession. Again, its just too soon to guess what the remaining 92% of this year will hold. But already we are starting to see the identity of this team, the good and the bad. In short, I like what I see. I’ll take it one step further and suggest, albeit prematurely, that this could well be a team that wins 80 games, just as I had hoped when I wrote about my expectations for Year 4 of this rebuilding process.
My optimism is rooted in 3 observations.
1-The top of the order has been solid. Figgins, Ackley, and Ichiro are all stinging the ball with consistency. Hitting the ball hard does not guarantee results, but it means the batter is not being fooled, he is using is lower half to generate power, and he’s getting the barrel on the ball. I’m seeing this out of all 3 guys, which is extremely encouraging.
2-The starting pitching is just fine. All 5 guys have had at least 1 great outing, and only twice has a starter been pulled before the 5th inning. I was especially worried about the back of the rotation, and my fears still remain, but I think our 3-5 guys will be alright, at least until help arrives in the summer…Paxton! Hultzen! The exception may be Millwood, who I could see getting torched on any given day.
3-No insurmountable weaknesses. If the M’s win 80 games, it can’t have a glaring weakness. Okay, so the offensive woes we’ve watched for the past years have not been totally solved. The M’s are still 14th in average and OBP in the AL, but they are 14th in MLB for runs, and that’s what counts. The offense is still the single biggest reason why this team won’t contend for the playoffs, but when Carp returns and the weather warms up, this is a middle of the league line-up. The rotation, defense, and bullpen are also not glaring weaknesses.
Most of us would be pleased with 80 wins, maybe even ecstatic, given the 67 and 61 win Mariner teams of the past 2 seasons. Others would say 80 wins is not a playoff team, therefore not relevant. These are mainly casual fans, but their perception matters a ton to the M’s, because these are the bandwagon fans that fill Safeco when the team is winning. Side note: M’s average attendance is 22,110 according to ESPN, which ranks 28 out of 30 teams. Oakland is ahead of us, averaging 24,630 but I’m assuming that counts the Japan games which Oakland was the home team. Anyways, the point is, 80 wins does not mean you are a good team, but it also does not mean you a bad team. For me, that would be progress, and more importantly, it would keep the plan on track to contend as soon as next year. It’s always next year isn’t it?!
Finally, we can turn on ROOT each night and watch a young, promising Mariner team. This team is not build on sand like the ’08 squad, nor are they world beaters. If you ask me (and admittingly I’m a homer), they are an 80 win team on the rise. So go Enjoy Felix tonight, seriously, tickets are dirt cheap. Just bought me a seat for $20, 12 rows up behind first base. You might see me when a lefty comes to bat, I’ll be the guy drinking the Mariner Kool-Aid!