Although dreams of winning the A.L. West were quickly crushed, the Mariners did have highlights in 2010. Felix Hernandez won the A.L. Cy Young award posting 13-12 record with a 2.27 ERA. Hernandez struck out 232 batters in 249.2 innings, building on a strong 2009. Led by Hernandez, Mariner pitching was solid all season posting a 3.93 team ERA. That was good enough for third in the American League.
Despite nice pitching, the Mariners lost 101 games. The main culprit was the offense. As a team, the Mariners were last in the American League in both runs scored, 513, and home runs, 101. They batted .236, last in the A.L. West and tenth in the American League. Only two Mariner regulars, Ichiro and Chone Figgins, batted over .250 for the season. With 2010 behind them, the Mariners look toward a brighter future in 2011. Let’s take a look at 3 areas of strength and 3 areas of potential difficulty for the Mariners in 2011.
1) Best Case Scenario: I’d love to say win the A.L. West here, but that seems unrealistic. The Mariners, though, have been a roller coaster the last four seasons. The wins have fluxed from 88 to 61 to 85 to 61 in the last four seasons. By numbers alone, the Mariners are in line for an over .500 season. With the offensive concerns hopefully addressed, I’d say the best case for Seattle is the 82-85 win range, not enough for a playoff spot in the loaded American League.
2) Most Valuable Players: The Seattle Mariners made a commitment to Felix Hernandez when he was brought up in 2005 at age 19. Now at 24, the Mariners have a bona fide ace who will anchor the rotation for years to come. The other most important player is the longest tenured Mariner, Ichiro. Ichiro’s .315 average last season was sixteen points below his career average. His OBP, .359, was the lowest it has been in five seasons. Ichiro needs to get on base and score runs for the Mariners offense to improve.
3) Potential Breakout Player: Justin Smoak. Smoak was the prize of the Cliff Lee trade, the reason Lee was shipped to a division rival. Early rumors pencil in the power hitting 1B to bat clean-up for Seattle in 2011. In 150 games between the majors and triple A last season, Smoak hit 22 homers and 27 doubles. With Ichiro and Chone Figgins setting the table, look for Smoak to put up some impressive power numbers in the Pacific Northwest.
1) Worst case scenario: Simply put: a repeat of last season. The Mariners have had an over 100 loss season in two of the last four years. After hiring Eric Wedge and beefing up the offense, this team expects improvement. A worst case scenario would be 70 wins or less, that would show a lack of progress in Wedge’s first year.
2) Biggest area of concern: The offense. The fact that Felix Hernandez only went 13-12 despite a 2.27 ERA tells you all you need to know about this offense. The Mariners brought in Jack Cust at DH and Miguel Olivo at C to solidify the offense. This team needs to score more runs and will lean on bounce back seasons from the returning starters to improve.
3) Mariner needing to rebound in 2011: Milton Bradley. The Mariners hoped a return to the American League would recharge Bradley, but his power numbers remained weak (.205-8 HR-29 RBI). Bradley had more RBI than that playing only 61 games in 2007 between Oakland and San Diego (37). Going into Spring Training, Bradley is the team’s starting LF. No one has been brought in to take his place, although Michael Saunders may see some significant time in LF. On top of that, Bradley was traded from Cleveland after a run in with Eric Wedge, the new Mariners’ manager. If Bradley struggles again, he might be watching the Mariners from the bench in 2011.
Be sure to check out our Spring Training Central where we put the “i-ball” on all 30 MLB teams