Believe Big: 5 Ways the 2011 Seattle Mariners Can Realistically Compete
It has been a long while since the Seattle Mariners won anything.
A review of 2010 isn't necessary. We all know what happened. Everything backfired: small ball, defense, pitching—it couldn't have been any worse.
That being said, there are a few reasons to be somewhat optimistic heading into this season. If by some wild chance the stars happen to align, the Mariners might just make something out of this season.
1. The Offense Achieves Average Results
In all fairness, what exactly were the chances that every single player would underperform at the plate?
No one could have seen the struggles of Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, Franklin Gutierrez, Rob Johnson, Adam Moore...(do I really need to list everyone except Ichiro?) coming.
This offense wasn't average. No, this offense didn't deserve the title of mediocrity. The only way you could successfully sum up the 2010 offense is "atrocious." They finished dead last in several offensive categories and saw several players finish well below their career averages.
For the team to compete in 2011, the offense doesn't have to be great. Heck, they don't even have to be above average. If everyone in this lineup can play up to the average expectations the baseball world has for them, expect a large improvement in wins this year.
2. Erik Bedard Gets Healthy
Bill Bavasi did some stupid things as general manager, but the Erik Bedard trade may have been the absolute rock bottom of the Bavasi era. Adam Jones and Chris Tillman are two players most fans would love to see in a Mariner uniform.
Don't get me wrong—Bedard was effective whenever he managed to make it out onto the field, posting an 11-7 record with a 2.78 ERA. However, over three seasons with the Mariners, Bedard has only managed to pitch 164 innings.
For the Mariners to really compete in 2011, they are going to need Bedard to come through.
Even when Bedard was healthy, he was never able to throw 200 innings in a season. Now, miracles have happened before, but to expect him to shoulder a whole workload (no pun intended...I swear) would be ludicrous.
However, if Bedard manages to pitch around 150 innings and pitch effectively, that would be a huge upgrade over David Pauley (4-9, 4.07) or Luke French (5-7, 4.83).
A rotation of Felix Hernandez, Bedard, Jason Vargas, Doug Fister and French/Pauley/Michael Pineda actually looks pretty nice on paper.
3. Eric Wedge Provides Leadership
Don Wakamatsu was a good guy.
Unfortunately, it usually takes more than a good attitude to be a successful manager. There are times when your players need some sort of fire lit under them, and if all reports hold true, Wakamatsu was not the man to inspire a team to turn it around.
Towards the end of his tenure, it was evident that Wakamatsu had lost his team.
Enter Eric Wedge.
Take one look at the guy, and you'll know he means business. With the mustache, angry stare and history of not tolerating laziness (just ask Milton Bradley), this man appears to be a solid choice to lead the Mariner uprising.
Then again, the last man who tried to light a fire under the Mariners (John McLaren: "We gotta ******* buckle it up and get after it") was fired halfway through an incredibly disappointing 2008 season.
That being said, if Wedge can find a way to earn his players' respect and get the best out of his players (something M's fans haven't seen since Mike Hargrove), then he might be able to immediately rebuild this franchise. It all starts with team chemistry, something this team had zero of last year.
4. The Bullpen Finds Solidity
Ryan Rowland-Smith, David Pauley, Luke French, Brandon League, David Aardsma, Jamey Wright, Garrett Olson, Ian Snell, Brian Sweeney, Sean White, Shawn Kelley, Chris Seddon, Chad Cordero, Joe Nelson, Dan Cortes and Anthony Varvaro.
Everyone on this list has two things in common:
1. They were all relief pitchers for your 2010 Seattle Mariners.
2. None of them were effective.
No lead was safe in 2010, not with the M's horrid offense and absolutely dreadful bullpen. They were so bad that the only way I could imagine Wakamatsu convincing Felix to leave a game with a small lead would be to threaten to trade him to the Baltimore Orioles if he didn't comply.
This, however, is a new year. If Shawn Kelley can stay healthy, Josh Lueke turns in a solid rookie campaign, Garrett Olson continues the hot streak he was on at the end of last year and Brandon League finally gets a catcher behind the plate that can catch his pitches, 2011 might be a solid year for the Mariners bullpen.
Keep in mind, however, that a lot of this will fall upon closer David Aardsma, who struggled on numerous occasions last season with control and keeping the ball in the yard. The 29-year-old righty recently had hip surgery and is expected to be out well into spring training. The stability of this bullpen really depends on whether or not Aardsma is there at the end of games holding up leads. If not, look for League to take over as a temporary closer.
5. Rangers, Angels and A's Underperform
Optimism aside, the AL West is going to be solid in 2011.
If the Mariners drastically over-perform, you can expect somewhere from 82-90 wins. Last season the Rangers won the division with 90 wins, and they appear to have gotten even better this season.
The Angels will always be tough, and you can never count out Billy Beane's moneyball.
For the Mariners to make the playoffs, they're going to need the rest of the league to beat the tar out of the rest of the AL West.