The Baseball Notebook

March 10, 2010 2:00 PM

Seattle Mariners Preview

Seattle has become a trendy pick to win their first AL West title since the 116-win team of 2001 and to end Los Angeles’ three-year run at the top. The Mariners went out and got Cliff Lee, fresh off a huge late-season and playoff run with Philadelphia, similar to what C.C. Sabathia did with Milwaukee in 2008. Fans in the Pacific Northwest hope Lee can follow it up the same way C.C. did.

Lee will be the lefthanded part of a potent 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. Felix Hernandez doesn’t have the postseason resume yet, but could be a better pitcher than Lee. “King Felix” is off a 19-5 year that saw him chew up 238 innings and post a 2.49 ERA. Normally that’s a lock for the Cy Young Award, lest for the huge season had by Zack Greinke.

The rest of the rotation has possibilities, but is also problematic. Ryan Rowland-Smith pitched pretty well (3.74 ERA) in 96 innings of work last year, and will now have to prove he can shoulder a bigger load. The same story goes for Doug Fisher. Ian Snell had a big MLB debut in Pittsburgh a couple years ago, but has fallen off ever since.

Getting some offense will be the key in Seattle. Going into the offseason, the Mariners’ only real offensive threats were Ichiro and second baseman Jose Lopez, and neither one of them is a true power hitter. The organization was as aggressive here as they were in the pitching department and they signed Chone Figgins away from the Angels, a double blow that strengthened themselves while hurting a rival. Figgins will give a huge spark to the top of the order. Seattle then took a huge risk and signed up Milton Bradley to play left. Bradley has a good bat, for both power and average, but carries a reputation as a clubhouse killer. Beyond this, the rest of the Seattle offense isn’t going to scare anybody. Signing Ken Griffey Jr. to DH is a nice story, but not one likely to produce runs.

In the relief corps, the team looks to have a serviceable staff, if not a dominant one. Mark Lowe and Sean White are functionable in the setup spots. The real question mark is whether David Aardsma can repeat his 38-save, 2.52 ERA performance of last year at a position where pitchers tend to blaze and fade. In that light, the M’s added Chad Cordero, once a star in Washington before injuries felled him, to provide some insurance.

Overall, Seattle has the look of a contender, as any rotation that comes around to Lee and Hernandez is never going to go too far off track. If they want to live up to their billing, they are going to need some help, mainly another bat, as the season progresses. And if Erik Bedard can make it back healthy in mid-May, the M’s would have a 1-2-3 combo very few teams could match. I’m not sure if they’re the favorite yet, but there should be meaningful baseball in the Pacific Northwest this year.

Up Next: Milwaukee Brewers tomorrow
Final AL West Picks & Preview: April 3

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