Seattle Mariners: 5 Key Questions for the 2012 Season
Remember these smiles? Felix and the boys celebrate after a walk-off win in 2011
The Mariners are coming off of a 67-95 record in 2011 and the city of Seattle can't take much more of that from their beloved baseball team.
In 2011 the Mariners played 18 rookies and ended the year with 14 players under the age of 25. It was almost like watching a minor league team at the major league level, and their record coupled with their inability to score runs reflected that.
2012 looks to have a similar feel in terms of the youth that will be playing on the big stage for the Mariners. Here are five questions that could be key to the success in Seattle.
Who Will Compete for the Hole at 3rd Base?
After the Mariners' gamble on the big purchase of Chone Figgins all but bombed, one of the looming questions is who will take over full time at the third base position?
Last season the Mariners had some platooning at that position, giving Figgins all the time in the world to turn it around. Rookies Kyle Seger and Alex Liddi kept the position above water for Seattle, and those are the two guys who figure to battle for the spot in the spring.
If you look at the championship caliber teams in Major League Baseball, what is one thing they all have in common at the third base position? Food for thought, Adrian Beltre, Alex Rodriguez, David Frease and Evan Longoria are guys who man that position and all posses serious power.
Alex Liddi could potentially be that power guy if he gets a chance to see enough major league pitching and can cut down on his strikeouts.
Can Anyone Back Up King Felix?
The BIG two, Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez
Nobody can do more for their team than King Felix does for the Mariners. If there was a baseball terms dictionary, Felix Hernandez would be the definition of the term "Ace."
Most people outside the city of Seattle wouldn't know that over the last three seasons King Felix has the lowest ERA of any American League starter.
The run support the Mariners gives Felix is more than frustrating but even with the lack of offense, Seattle still has hopes for a win every fifth day. In 2012 you can count on Felix to give 230 innings of solid pitching, but he needs some help.
I hope Michael Pineda enjoyed being a rookie in 2011 because he's quickly a veteran and No. 2 starter in Major League Baseball, welcome to the show kid. There is no more time for babying the young flame thrower, Pineda will be expected to carry the brunt of the load behind Felix in the rotation.
Look for some more youngsters to arrive on scene to help the rotation out, Danny Hultzen will have big expectations from the organization and probably won't spend a whole lot of time working his way up.
Will Ackley and Carp Repeat in 2012?
Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp
Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp lived up to, and even surpassed, the expectations in 2011 for the Mariners, but if the Mariners are going to be successful in 2012 those two need to do even more.
It may be a lot to ask from two guys who have only one full season each under their belts, but in 2012 the super rookies of 2011 will have to put the team on their backs. It looks as if the Mariners are not going to make a huge offseason signing, although Prince Fielder is still currently available.
Ackley and Carp figure to be somewhere in the middle of the lineup again in 2012 and will have the responsibility of driving in runs. Neither one of these guys is your typical long ball hitter, but both have the potential to hit for good average and a lot of hits.
You can still drive in runs with singles and doubles, but that is only if the Mariners can get guys on in scoring position ahead of them. Seattle will not have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for the two-run blast. With that being said, if they can find a way to get guys on and move them over ahead of Ackley and Carp those guys will be able to bring them in.
This is not the most exciting way to score runs, but if they want to compete in the newest beast division of Major League Baseball they have to execute.
How Will Ichiro Return?
Mariners hope Ichiro returns to form in 2012
It is no secret that Ichiro had the worst season of his major league career in 2011.
For the first time in his career he hit under .300 (.272) and had less than 200 (184) hits. Granted most Major League Baseball players do not hit over .300 and have more 200 hits in 10 straight seasons, but that became the norm for Ichiro in Seattle.
For the Mariners to be successful in 2012, they need Ichiro to return to form. Rumor has it he may not lead off anymore, but regardless they need his speed and run scoring ability on the base paths.
The most alarming stat to me, more than his average or hits, was the fact that he also had the lowest on-base percentage of his career in 2011. If the Mariners are going to score runs in 2012 Ichiro needs to do it more than 80 times.
How Do the Mariners Sign Larry Bernandez?
One thing you can do when your team is having a bad decade is have some fun. Props to the Seattle Mariners promotional staff for keeping smiles on the faces of the 15,000 to 25,000 fans the Mariners draw to Safeco Field on a daily basis.
Last season, Larry Bernandez took off and ruled the Kings Court section at Safeco and even had his own bobble head day.
Part of the reason I think it took off so well is deep down inside Mariner fans, for a second, thought they could clone their ace Felix Hernandez. Wouldn't it be nice to have two guys like that in your rotation?
Sometimes you have to have some fun to keeps things sane in a city that is going stir crazy for a winning baseball team!