Almost. It’s almost game time. On the weirdest opening morning ever, Andrew and I are hanging out, watching the underrated classic Orange County, with The Sandlot on deck. I hope the Mariners never have another 3 AM opening game, but it’s kind of like the Alamo Bowl was: not particularly pleasant, but pretty fun and well worth the memory.
So, what to expect from these Mariners? The playoffs aren’t impossible, but they’re pretty unlikely. It would take almost everyone developing like you would dream, Ichiro and other veterans having huge comeback years, and probably a lot of luck on top of it. Stranger things have happened, but I’m not betting on it. Call 81 wins the more reasonable goal. Even that might be wishful thinking, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
This will really be a season about watching for signs of hope for the future. Ideally this year would provide a couple of guys who can be counted on as future franchise cornerstones, a veteran or two taking a step forward, and the emergence of new prospects to replace those who are now or will shortly be in the big leagues.
More specifically, here’s a few things I’d love to see:
- Justin Smoak hitting the ball (and staying healthy). The future Mariners offense looks much better now than it did a year ago, but it still has questions. Ackley and Montero are reasonably sure things given their inexperience, but few others fit that description. If Smoak can consistently flash his talent, he becomes a third middle of the order guy and makes the offense much easier to build.
- Ichiro bouncing back. I love Ichiro. I hope he goes back to his pre-2011 level and gets a contract extension and reaches 3,000 hits in Seattle. Don’t know if it’ll happen, but I’m hoping.
- One of the outfielders emerging from the pile. The most likely bet here is that Mike Carp solidifies himself as a viable outfielder who can hit, but I’m personally hoping Michael Saunders can do something. Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Franklin Gutierrez: any of you can take this opportunity to do something.
- I’d really love for Chone Figgins to not be on the team in August. That would mean they’ve either bit the bullet and released him, or he’s played well enough to be traded. I’m good with either. Sorry, Chone, but I’m just tired of watching you.
- It’ll be great when/if the trifecta of Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker make their debuts, but I’ll be watching before that to see if Hector Noesi, Blake Beavan or Erasmo Ramirez can make an impression. Pitchers flame out and get hurt, so banking on three prospects is always risky. The Mariners need to develop some depth.
- It’s been a long time since we’ve had one of those bullpens of death like the 2001 team or the Padres always seem to have. I don’t expect this year’s team to change that, but I would love to see a few young relievers emerge to move them in that direction.
So that’s mostly it. A few of those things happen, the M’s score a few more runs, and we get some good memories, and I’ll be fairly satisfied with this year. Not saying I wouldn’t love a surprise run for that 2nd wild card spot, but if I’m trying to be realistic, there are worse things than a young team with lots to prove. Like a team of Miguel Batista, Carlos Silva and Jose Vidro. That is not a fun team. This can be so much better than that.
Go Mariners! Believe Big!