There are a lot of new faces in Seattle's batting order this season. So far this is proving to be a good thing. The Mariners finished last in every batting category last year. Though they were at or near the top in most pitching categories (which helped mask their weak hitting), you can't win a championship on pitching alone.
The only two guys carrying over from last season are Ichiro and Chone Figgins, in the one and two spots respectively. Everyone else is new or suffered an injury last year.
There seems to be a pretty good balance of power and average hitters. Here is a closer look:
Ichiro has been the one consistent hitter for the Mariners since he arrived in America in 2001. He is currently the best leadoff hitter in the game and arguably the best ever. Ichiro always finds a way to get on base.
His nickname, the "Sultan of Slap," accurately describes his hitting style. Ichiro often leaves the batters box before he finishes hitting the ball. This head start, coupled with his singular agility, have given him the most infield hits in baseball since 2001.
And he isn't finished once he reaches first.
Ichiro is potent on the base paths, often creating scoring opportunities when the Mariners need them most.
Ichiro Suzuki has been the pride of the Mariners since he came to Seattle ten years ago. We should see him hitting leadoff for the Mariners until he's well past 40 years old and 3000 hits.
There has been a lot of debate as to whether or not Chone Figgins will be an effective part of Seattle's lineup. He is a proven asset in the field and, once on base, he can cause major damage. But he hasn't had a great hitting season with the Mariners yet.
This year he is just 3 for 25 with five strikeouts; hardly the numbers of a strong number two hitter. That doesn't mean he won't heat up though. Figgins is a seasoned veteran and has the potential for a solid year.
The alternative to Figgins is Luis Rodriguez. In the league since 2005, Rodriguez has batted .242 lifetime in backup roles. Let's bank on Figgins hitting a hot streak sometime soon...
Bradley struggled with the Mariners last season. Losing much of the year to injury, he was also hampered by conflict with the front office and teammates. Bradley hasn't looked solid since 2008, with Texas, when he hit .321 with 22 HRs.
But this year could be different.
He's the hottest hitter on the team presently and he's a major part of their revamped lineup, with Ichiro and Figgins hitting before him. He already has three doubles, eight runs and a .333 average to his credit.
If Bradley continues to hit well, he'll pose a major threat to opposing pitchers, especially if Ichiro and Figgins get on regularly before him.
Jack Cust is the obvious choice for batting cleanup. Over the last four years with Oakland he accumulated 97 HRs and 281 RBI. While these aren't the numbers of a super slugger, he gets the job done.
The Mariners haven't featured a great power hitter in a while. Pitching, fielding, and getting on base have been the priorities, a strategy that was more effective in the earlier years as they've been slowly deteriorating since 2001.
But every year is different.
Cust doesn't have a great average and strikes out a lot, but these come with hitting for power. He walks often though, wearing out the pitcher and opening up opportunities for big hits down the order.
Until the Mariners find a franchise slugger, we can expect to see Cust in the fourth spot.
Justin Smoak has some serious potential. He is one of the most anticipated young players in baseball. Some worry that he was called up too early, but hitting in a veteran lineup could do him some good.
He is still tweaking his swing, so we aren't seeing the numbers that some had hoped for. But it's early yet. The five spot should be a good fit for him, behind the veteran Cust and with potential base runners getting on before him.
Miguel Olivo is another veteran who could hit really well this year. He has already demonstrated discipline at the plate, leading the team with a .353 average and three RBI.
At the last spot in the Mariners' power middle section, Olivo will be expected to act as a secondary cleanup man, clearing off any runners that Bradley, Cust, and Smoak left on.
Olivo is also more than competent behind the plate, increasing his value as a starter.
Ryan Langerhans is not one of the brighter spots in 2011 Mariners lineup. While he does have one of just two home runs for the M's so far, he hasn't done much else to impress.
Langerhans has only two hits in 13 at bats. While we can't expect much out of a guy hitting seventh on a team known for its fielding, he needs to step it up if he wants to keep the starting job.
Dropping a routine fly ball in the third game at Oakland, costing the Mariners valuable runs, did not help his cause either, especially considering the team's emphasis on defense.
We could see Michael Saunders more frequently if Langerhans continues to slump.
In Brendan Ryan's first year with Seattle he has shown definite commitment to the team. He looks great at shortstop and has come through several times in the clutch for Seattle.
I think we'll see a lot more of him this year, and he may even move up in the order, especially if some of the other guys can't keep up their production.
After a below average year with the Mariners in 2010, Jack Wilson has stepped it up. Even after ten years in the league, Wilson is still improving his swing.
He's hitting .333 this year as the number nine hitter. He doesn't have much in the way of runs or RBI, but that can be explained by his spot in the order; rarely has Wilson been presented with RISP.
Like Olivo, Wilson has a great defensive skill set, exemplified by his Top 10 double play against Texas, and his strong arm makes him a good option at any infield position.
Stay tuned for a pitching review after everyone has two starts.