The Mariners start their 2017 campaign in Houston tonight with expectations as high as they’ve been in years. Will the playoff drought finally end?
It is finally here. The countdown to Opening Day is over and the Seattle Mariners begin playing meaningful baseball. As we saw last year with the Mariners falling three games short of a playoff spot, games in April matter. Letting games get away in April could be just as fatal as doing so in September. The Mariners are looking for a fast start, especially as they play 17 of their first 20 games against AL West rivals. They need to make a run in their own division early.
First, for those of you in a coma the last six months, here’s a brief look at the roster with plenty of new faces:
Mariners 25-Man Roster
Starting Lineup (as of the last Spring Training game)
Jean Segura, SS
Mitch Haniger, RF
Robinson Cano, 2B*
Nelson Cruz, DH
Kyle Seager, 3B*
Danny Valencia, 1B
Leonys Martin, CF*
Mike Zunino, C
Jarrod Dyson, LF*
Taylor Motter, UTL
Carlos Ruiz, C
The roster came with a few surprises (some good, some not so much). The main headline is Drew Smyly is on the shelf to start the year with elbow issues. That is never a good sign. The Mariners hope to have him back before June and have him only on the 10-day Disabled List (changed from 15 days after last season). Ariel Miranda will take his spot in the rotation. This is exactly why the Mariners stressed depth this season. It’s nice that they can plug in a lefty who made 10 starts with a 3.54 ERA last season.
Dan Vogelbach will start the season in Triple-A Tacoma, giving Danny Valencia full-time first base duties as opposed to the platoon role everyone thought he would have. This will allow the Mariners to take the same approach with Vogelbach that they did with Paxton and Zunino last season–easing him into a Major League role.
Taylor Motter won the utility role after out-performing Shawn O’Malley (O’Malley is also on the shelf after an appendectomy). He brings a bit more pop than O’Malley with the same amount of versatility.
Mitch Haniger was a pleasant surprise in spring training and bashed his way into the starting lineup.
Manager Scott Servais has been clear that they at least want to start out with an 8-man bullpen. That only leaves three spots on the bench. That could be useful as the Mariners are down a starter to being the year. The bullpen includes three lefties including a proven veteran in Marc Rzepczynski. Edwin Diaz anchors down this bullpen as their young, electric closer.
The Mariners Make the Playoffs If…
Felix Hernandez pitches like he did in Spring Training (2.77 ERA, 14 Ks in 13 IP). Health is also on every team’s checklist for making the postseason. Drew Smyly aside, the Mariners are in decent shape. Bullpen arms Steve Cishek and Tony Zych are making their way back. As long as a Robinson Cano or a Felix Hernandez don’t have extended stays on the DL, the Mariners will be in a good position come late September.
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Seattle will taste October baseball if the bullpen is consistent. Every team will have some journeymen and changes in their bullpen. The Mariners need to avoid things like Edwin Diaz regressing or nagging injuries to the few veterans they do have in the ‘pen. The bullpen was a bit concerning during Spring Training games but it’s a clean slate to start the regular season.
The newcomers all don’t need to be home runs but the Mariners seem to be counting on Mitch Haniger, Jarrod Dyson and Jean Segura a lot. Dyson may not play 162 games but if he can hold his own with the bat, his glove is a huge upgrade in the spacious outfield of Safeco Field. The Mariners make the postseason if at least two of those three end up panning out.
It’s finally time to watch the Mariners play meaningful baseball! Sit back, relax and enjoy the journey. Don’t freak out if the Mariners get off to an 8-10 start. It’s a long season and this team showed us last year that they are resilient and won’t back down to a challenge. Pay particularly close attention to how they play against the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers. A few more wins against those teams last year and we are talking about making the playoffs for a consecutive year, not still trying to end the drought. GM Jerry Dipoto is confident in this team and so am I.