Before you hear the umpire yell “Play Ball!” today at Safeco Field, here’s some thoughts about the Seattle Mariners, one for every inning of today’s game (1:10 p.m., ROOT TV):
1, The Skipper: After going through Bob Melvin, Mike Hargrove, John McLaren, Jim Riggleman, Don Wakamatsu and Eric Wedge, I think the Mariners have finally found the right guy to lead this club in Lloyd McClendon. He seems to have that right mix of fire and steadiness. He knows how to keep his veteran stars like Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano happy, and instill confident in the role guys. He’d been a manager before in Pittsbugh, and worked seven years under Jim Leyland in Detroit. Seattle improved 16 games in the win column in McClendon’s first year. He’s got more talent to work with now. It should be, as all of the pundits are telling you, a fun season.
Here’s a really good story by Jerry Crasnick about McClendon carrying the torch as the only African-American manager in the majors.
2, If Fernando Rodney stumbles, and I don’t know why I think he might, I’m not worried. Yoervis Medina, Carson Smith, Danny Farquhar, Tom Wilhelmsen — part of a bullpen that was as good as any in baseball a year ago — all have what it takes to be closers. Farquhar saved 16 games in 2013 when he was thrust into that role. Here’s an analytical look at why some think Rodney, who had 48 saves in 2014, might fall off a bit in 2015.
3, Expecting big things: When Taijuan Walker got an opportunity last season, he wasn’t ready for it. Physically, yes, but mentally, no. Now he’s ready to take steps toward establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Walker’s delivery is so smooth and the ball just flies when he releases it. You wonder how he generates so much power. It’s kind of like a Freddy Couples drive. Effortless. He starts the season as Seattle’s No. 4 starter. He might be No. 2 by the end of the year.
4, Reason for caution: I wrote about it last month, and several others have made the same point. The outfielders are going to have to prove to me that they can produce on a consistent basis. Based on what we saw a year ago I think it’s justified to be a little concerned about center fielder and leadoff hitter Austin Jackson (.229/.267/.260 slash line after coming over from Detroit). And, OK, I don’t follow baseball like I used to but I’d never heard of Seth Smith or Justin Ruggiano until the Mariners acquired them. Dustin Ackley? He’s a career .245 hitter. Rickie Weeks is the one piece I’m reasonably confident about. To borrow a quote from Lou Piniella, “He’s a professional hitter.”
5, Experience: I like the fact that the Mariners are no longer a young team. This is a veteran team, with stars like Hernandez, Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager and Hiashi Iwakuma. There are no rookies on the club. Art Thiel of sportspress.nw writes that the Mariners have no one younger than 24 or older than 34 in Monday’s starting lineup. I also like the fact Seattle won’t be counting on Justin Smoak this season.
6, Speaking of Iwakuma: With King Felix and Walker, and talented lefty James Paxton and newcomer J.A. Happ garnering a lot of preseason attention, Hishashi Iwakuma tends to get overlooked at times. We forget how good he is. When he’s got the splitting diving, he’s one of the premier pitchers in the game. Remember 2013 when he was 14-6 and finished third in the Cy Young balloting (Felix was eighth that year). Kuma ranked second in the AL in WHIP (a club-record 1.006), third in ERA (2.66), innings (219 2/3) and opponents’ batting average (.220), fourth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.40) and quality starts (23), and fifth in opponents’ OPS (.630). He battled some arm issues a year ago, but still managed to make 28 starts and finished with a 15-9 record and 3.52 ERA. The arm was strong this spring, and I think you can look for another All-Star type of season out of the right-hander, who is in the final year of a 3-year, $20 million deal.
7, Beer: Yes, it’s expensive, but the options at Safeco Field are endless. I bet you can’t sample one of each before the end of the season.
8, In case you missed it: This is the preview about the Mariners from Sports Illustrated, Lookout Landing, and a prediction column by Larry Stone of the Seattle Times about the Mariners putting it all together after years of disappointments (there are also links to other previews stories). And Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune (his stuff also appears in The Sun) had a good story on Opening Day starter Felix Hernandez.
9, Road trip: The Mariners are in San Francisco to play the defending World Champion Giants on June 15 (Monday, 7:15 p.m.) and 16 (Tuesday, 12:45 p.m.), and the Giants are in Seattle June 17 (Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.) and June 18 (Thursday, 7:10 p.m.). That’s a four-game series I’d like to see.