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Optimistic View: Six Reasons the Mariners Can Reach the Playoffs as Constructed

J.J. MatthewsContributor IIIDecember 16, 2012

Optimistic View: Six Reasons the Mariners Can Reach the Playoffs as Constructed

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    For those of you who have been following me since my debut a few days ago, I have done my best to illustrate that the Seattle Mariners are indeed not so far away from contending.

    In fact, being able to find a bright spot for the Mariners has been rather difficult over the last few days, especially with Josh Hamilton being the latest free agent to pass on Seattle.

    Honestly, with the signings of Josh Hamilton in Los Angeles, Mike Napoli in Boston and the removal of Justin Upton from the trade market, many Mariners fans seem to be hoping that the Mayan calendar is accurate, so that a week from now Seattle fans will no longer have to suffer.

    I, for one, am not ready to declare the glass to be half empty. I intend to paint a picture for all of the Mariner faithful that illustrates the image of hope, not demise.

    Thankfully, the writers over at U.S.S. Mariner seem to be seeing the same image that I do. So at least I don't feel like I'm alone in this battle for belief.

    Seattle is not as far away as many people may think. I'm here to show you five reasons why.

The Oakland Athletic Theory

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    In this slide, I will begin by showing two exhibits.

    Exhibit A) .244/.311/.369 114 HR, 612 RBI, 645 Runs, and a team OPS of .680

    Exhibit B) .234/.296/.369 149 HR, 584 RBI, 619 Runs, and a team OPS of .665

    Can anyone tell me which exhibit belongs to whom without having to check Baseball Reference?

    Exhibit A is the offensive statistics of the 2011 Oakland Athletics and Exhibit B is the offensive statistics of the 2012 Seattle Mariners. In 2011, Oakland finished with a record of 74-88, while Seattle finished 2012 with a record of 75-87.

    Not too far off right?

    As a matter of fact, the 2011 offseason was not one Athletic fans were too thrilled about.

    Sound familiar Seattle fans?

    The big acquisitions of the offseason for Oakland were signing Yoenis Cespedes who had never played a single game of affiliated baseball, and signing Coco Crisp to "solidify" their outfield.

    GM Billy Beane continued his trend of playing money ball by trading their starting closer Andrew Bailey to Boston for Miles Head, Raul Alcantra, and a fourth outfielder named Josh Reddick.

    He then traded away two big pieces of his starting rotation by shipping Trevor Cahill to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Gio Gonzalez to the Washington Nationals.

    However, the trade of Gio was applauded by many, including Keith Law of ESPN (ESPN Insider Required).

    But that same Keith Law went on to scorn Oakland (ESPN Insider Required) for the trade of Cahill, claiming that top prospect Jarrod Parker was an "insufficient return for an established starter".

    Well, we all know what happened from there.

    The point here is that the sexy free-agent signing isn't always the answer. Remember, the Los Angeles Angels signed Albert Pujols AND CJ Wilson last year and didn't make the playoffs, whereas Oakland rode the prospects they acquired all the way to an improbable American League West Division Title.

The Vulnerability of the Texas Rangers

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    Remember the devastating middle of the order the Texas Rangers had last season?

    Remember when the Texas Rangers had CJ Wilson and Cliff Lee?

    My oh my how things have changed.

    After a late season collapse, and an offseason that has without a doubt left owner Nolan Ryan with a sour taste in his mouth, the Rangers are no longer the big bully on the block.

    Am I saying the Rangers will finish last this season? Absolutely not.

    However, the loss of Mike Napoli, Josh Hamilton and Michael Young can not be measured simply in home runs and runs batted in. The fact is the Rangers are now a team without an identity and without a face of the franchise to lean on for leadership.

    I have no doubt in my mind that Adrian Beltre will continue to rake in Texas, and that Jurickson Profar and Elvis Andrus may wind up being the best up-the-middle combination in baseball. But this is a far cry from the team that went to the World Series in 2010 and 2011.

The Houston Astros

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    So I don't like assuming that any given team may struggle to win 50 games in a season, but when you look at the 2013 Houston Astros, it is difficult to find much reason for optimism.

    Sure, they are building an impressive minor league system and maybe a threat a few years from now, but we're not talking about the 2016 season.

    Houston is going to have some major problems switching from the NL Central to what many people consider the best division in baseball.

    The Astros finished dead last in the National League in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS, so they will have to rely on their pitching staff to keep them in games.

    Too bad they finished in the bottom three of almost every major category for pitching as well.

    Needless to say, the Mariners will benefit from having 19 games against Houston this year.

The Emergence of Young Talent

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    Wow, before even starting this slide, I can already hear Seattle fans yelling at me.

    Yes, we have been banking on the young talent to turn the corner for the last few seasons.

    And yes, for the most part, they have continued to struggle offensively leaving Mariners fans questioning whether or not this group of talented youngsters really have what it takes to bring October baseball back to the Pacific Northwest.

    I believe that 2013 may in fact be the year that the kids finally shed the title of under-performers.

    Dustin Ackley can not have as bad a season as he did last year. He is far too talented to be a career .226 hitter.

    Michael Saunders finally showed glimpses of what we all suspected he could be. He worked his tail off in the offseason to be one of the most important pieces of the Mariner offense last season.

    And Justin Smoak, fresh off a late season demotion to Tacoma, came back with a vengeance by being the best hitter in the Mariners lineup in the month of September.

    Sprinkle in the fact that two of the Big Three (James Paxton and Danny Hultzen) very well could break spring training in the starting rotation, and you have a mountain of potential and talent that is sky high.

    I know Seattle fans are tired of hearing about potential and are looking for results, but I honestly do believe this season will be the turning point for many of the young talents.

Felix and Friends

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    It's nice knowing that no matter what, every five games you have a starter who can toe the rubber with talent that is superior enough to win you a ball game.

    But this rotation is much more than Felix Hernandez.

    Many people don't see Jason Vargas as a number two, but ever since he made his debut with Seattle, Vargas has done nothing but be a solid cog in the rotation.

    Since 2009, Vargas has compiled a 36-43 record with a 1.26 WHIP and a collective WAR of 5.6. Other teams have noticed his talent as well by trying to trade for him the last two trade deadlines.

    Hisashi Iwakuma also came on strong by finishing in the starting rotation last season. I mean, all the guy did was post a 6-2 record with a 1.83 ERA and 43 strikeouts, which leads us all to wonder, WHAT TOOK SO LONG TO GET HIM IN THE ROTATION?!

    Add in the potential of a healthy Erasmo Ramirez and the addition of one of the Big Three into the rotation by mid-season, and you have a very formidable rotation.

    Even with poor run support, the rotation has kept Seattle in a lot of games over the last few seasons, and that's the most important thing you can ask from your staff.

The Bullpen

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    Finally, we come to the strength of the Seattle Mariners: the bullpen.

    Honestly, if it wasn't for this talented group of arms, Seattle could have had a much worse record last season. The best part of it all is the group stands to get even better.

    Last season we saw the integration of young flame throwers Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor. We saw the development of Rule 5 draft pick Lucas Luetge, as he transformed into a left-handed batter's nightmare.

    We saw the resurgence of Charlie Furbush, who seemed to have harnessed all of his talents to become one of the most reliable options available to Manager Eric Wedge.

    Toss in Oliver Perez redefining himself as a solid set-up option and the knee-buckling curve balls and absolute gas from closer Tom Wilhelmsen, and you find yourself with a very deep group of inning eaters.

    If the bullpen puts up similar numbers to last season, or even finds improvement with the maturation of Capps and Pryor, the Mariners may not have to worry about those close games anymore.

Conclusion

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    Are the Mariners really a dark horse playoff team?

    Can the starting rotation hold up through the rigors of a 162 game season?

    Will the kids finally turn the corner and re-energize a desperate Seattle fan base?

    These are all questions that run the mind of any Mariner fan, but I can tell you that this Mariner fan truly believes that 2013 will be the season Seattle makes the push.

    Am I relying on a lot of 'ifs' and 'maybes'? Sure I am. But as a life time fan who saw the 2001 team win 116 games after trading away every star I ever knew, there is one thing I will not allow to fall into the 'maybe' category.

    My hope.

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