So a couple days ago I posted about how excited I was for spring training, and a list of reasons why YOU should be excited too. Which is all well and good. Today, however, baseball is still twelve days away, and while excitement is still in here somewhere, I’m kind of feeling struck by how much I feel like the Mariners have to win this year. It feels like, we could accept missing the playoffs last year by one game, because 2015 is gonna be the year.
I remember a lot of talk about baseball after the Mariners missed the playoffs last year, that, if they could have just creeped in somehow, they would have likely had a good shot at going all the way. Because their team was built around pitching—starting and especially bullpen, and defense to a lesser extent.
In 2015 we still have most of that team. It seems logical we can make it this time. Of course, it always seems logical to count the A’s out, but nearly every year (with few exceptions) in the 21st century that seems to be a mistake. So how are we feeling, M’s fans?
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We should be good. No doubt about it. But that’s doesn’t feel like enough. Things go wrong for every team, but with the Mariners, it seems like when things go wrong, things go WRRROOOOOONG.
So, what’s the worst that can happen? I feel like that’s the basic question here.
#1: Robinson Cano Gets Hurt: I don’t wanna get too into injuries here, because they could happen to anyone, but it’s hard not to cover this one. This would be a huge blow to the defense, for one, and leadership of the clubhouse for second.
Also it would throw off the lineup balance, because it would force either Nelson Cruz, or Seager to step up and be the number three in the lineup, most likely Cruz. And they are both better off in the four and five spots. Willie Bloomquist could fill in at second, or in a better case scenario, both Chris Taylor, and Brad Miller have played well enough to warrant playing time and one could be stashed at second.
That would leave Bloomquist to be the super-utility man he’s best suited to be. Although he is coming off an injury…
#2: James Paxton and/or Taijuan Walker Fail to Materialize: So there is a few different ways this could go down. Walker and Paxton are both expected to win spots, so we’re expected to see a rotation of Felix, Iwakuma, J.A. Happ, and then Walker, Paxton.
Either Walker or Paxton could have issues, but we saw twice as much Paxton as we did Walker last year, with Paxton posting 74 innings to Walker’s 38. So Walker has the greater upside, but Paxton has shown us more. Both have already sustained injuries, which is troubling for any young pitcher, let alone young pitchers expected to anchor the rotation.
If there is issues with both then the rotation turns into a big question mark, that would perhaps have to be filled by trade, if the M’s turn out to be serious in 2015.
#3: Dustin Ackley and Logan Morrison‘s Second Half Selves Don’t Show Up: This is similar to number two, and shows you the biggest issue with the Mariners is their inexperience, their lack of tried and true players. There is a lot riding on people “proving” themselves.
That is definitely the case for Ackley and Morrison. Morrison, unless he truly blossoms into something special, is in more of a holding down the fort situation. D.J. Peterson and his monster bat is expected to be the future of the first base situation, but that’s still 2016 at the earliest, and we’re looking at this year.
Ackley, if he can solidify his offense, keep a steady bat, could be a fixture in left field, that’s what the M’s seem to want out of him, that would permanently nail down at least one spot in the revolving door of the Mariners outfield.
Morrison showed quite a bit of pop in the second half, especially in the two homer game. But if these guys don’t show up, you’ve got Jesus Montero potentially as an option at first, and the Seth Smith/Justin Ruggiano platoon could be split with one in right and one in left.
But remember, these guys are platooned for a reason. And Montero is looking more and more like the next Justin Smoak-except on a higher scale. So the Mariners have some in-house options on this one, but they have even more question marks.
I feel these are the biggest questions on my mind. This is definitely not the end of the questions, although they all follow a similar thread: failing to materialize.
What if the good Austin Jackson doesn’t show up?
What if the Smith/Ruggiano platoon totally doesn’t happen?
What if Iwakuma totally implodes?
What if that weirdly awesome bullpen doesn’t show up?
And there is, of course, more and more and more. But I think these three questions hold the crux to the M’s fortunes. We have to expect Felix and Iwakuma to be good, Happ to be effective in his number 5 starter type way, Cano and Seager to be anchors, the right field platoon to work out like it does on paper, Mike Zunino to be a rock again, the Brad Miller/Chris Taylor shortstop sweepstakes to produce a solid winner.
And it’s easier for me to accept those things, but these are the three other things either more likely to go wrong (2&3), or simply have huge consequences if they go wrong (1).
Hopefully now that the anxieties and questions have been bled out onto the virtual page we can all go back to being excited for spring baseball, and dreaming of that A.L. West crown (for starters).
Either way, we start getting some answers in twelve days.