As we count down the days until Opening Day, it is time to look at each of the teams on the Red Sox' 2010 schedule. Our 12th installment examines the Seattle Mariners.
2009 record: 85-77, 3rd in AL West
Manager: Don Wakamatsu
Key additions: SP Cliff Lee, 3B Chone Figgins, OF Milton Bradley, 1B Casey Kotchman, 1B Ryan Garko, C Josh Bard
Key losses: C Kenji Johjima, 1B Russell Branyan, 3B Adrian Beltre, IF Bill Hall, SP Carlos Silva, SP Miguel Batista, OF Endy Chavez
Outlook: The leaders in a trendy new world of defensive analysis, the Mariners are a hot pick to claim the AL West this season.
With the addition of former AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee and dynamic third baseman Chone Figgins, the team which had the major?s biggest improvement in wins last year (24) seemingly got better.
But before we crown the M?s, let?s see if they did enough to elevate an offense which ranked dead last in the AL last year. Sure, it?s all about pitching and defense — and they?ve got their finger on that in Seattle — but you do need to score some runs from time to time.
It?s unlikely that the Mariners can give up 52 more runs than they score, as they did in 2009, and still finish eight games above .500.
Figgins will help immensely, for sure. He led the league in walks and ranked second in runs scored last year, and along with Ichiro Suzuki, he gives the lineup two chances to get going.
So where does manager Don Wakamatsu go next?
Well, Milton Bradley might bat third and Jose Lopez fourth. The former is afraid of civility. The latter is afraid to take a walk. The hope is that a change of scenery for Bradley (where have we heard that before?) will help, and he did lead the AL with a .999 OPS the last time he was in the league with Texas in 2008.
Lopez, who has moved up and down the order throughout his career, is a .326 hitter in the cleanup role.
It gets a little slim after that with Franklin Gutierrez, Casey Kotchman and Ken Griffey Jr. among those to form a bridge to a rather weak bottom of the order.
The Mariners know they won?t knock the cover off the ball but are hopeful that high on-base guys like Figgins and Bradley will improve the offensive output just enough. They are much more certain that Lee and co-ace Felix Hernandez give the club the best 1-2 punch in baseball, and that several positions feature top-notch defensive performers.
Certainty is something that was in short supply in Seattle until the club took this new approach under general manager Jack Zduriencik. Until we see how well the offense performs, that will have to do.
What it means to the Red Sox: There have been whispers for a few years now that Hernandez is on the Red Sox? radar. Well, the five-year extension King Felix signed in January put those ideas to rest, and now the big righty can concentrate on continuing to dominate Boston.
In seven career starts against the Red Sox, he is 3-1 with a 3.17 ERA. At Fenway Park he?s even better, going 2-0 with a 1.23 mark. We all remember the one-hitter within the friendly confines back in 2007.
Now that Hernandez has a partner in crime, meetings with the M?s get a bit tougher. Seattle took four of six meetings last season.