The Seattle Mariners can pitch. They can field. And presumably they’ll have better chemistry than in 2010, when a poor start, an anemic offense that scored just 513 runs, and a fractured clubhouse led to the early dismissal of manager Don Wakamatsu.
Management addressed those concerns in the offseason, by adding some veteran bats, by reconfiguring their infield, and by hiring a veteran manager in Eric Wedge.
He’s a former big-league catcher who managed the Cleveland Indians from 2002 through 2009 and was the AL Manager of the Year after leading the Tribe to the AL Central championship and a berth in the ALCS in 2007.
So if the Ms can hit, they could move out of the basement in the American League West, the weakest of the league’s three divisions.
West Coast League president Ken Wilson shared the Mariners’ radio play-by-play duties from 1977-82, with the late Dave Neihaus. This summer, Wilson again will have an insider’s view of the club this summer. He’s returning to the mic for 31 games as part of the unit that will succeed Neihaus, a Hall of Famer who died unexpectedly this past November 10 at 75 years of age after 34 seasons with the club.
“I’m excited to be part of the Mariners’ broadcast team,” Wilson said. “The West Coast League is all about baseball in the Pacific Northwest, as are the Mariners. It’s a perfect combination.”
Seattle’s projected lineup is Ichiro Suzuki (pictured), RF; Chone Figgins, 3B; Franklin Gutierrez, CF; Jack Cust, DH; Justin Smoak, 1B; Miguel Olivo, C; Michael Saunders, LF; Jack Wilson, SS, and Brendan Ryan, 2B.
Their projected starting rotation is RHP Felix Hernandez, the 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner; LHP Jason Vargas; RHP Doug Fister; LHP Erik Bedard, and either RHP David Pauley, LHP Luke French, or rookie RHP Michael Pineda.
In a Q&A with Brooks Hatch, the Director of Public Relations for the Corvallis Knights, Wilson detailed what his new post will entail and how he evaluates the 2011 Mariners.
HATCH: Can you outline your job with the Mariners? How many games will you do, etc.
WILSON: “I’ve done two telecasts during spring training and have 31 games to work on radio during the regular season. I started my major league broadcasting career with the Mariners and I’m honored to end it with the Mariners.”
HATCH: Have the Mariners added enough bats to contend, with new DH Jack Cust, new first baseman Justin Smoak and new catcher Miguel Olivo, among others?
WILSON: “I like the Mariners’ talent. Certainly they can use a couple of big bats in the middle of the batting order. If Ichiro and Figgins get on base enough, the table will be set for Gutierrez, Cust, Smoak and [Milton] Bradley.
“Smoak and Bradley are the biggest question marks. Smoak, especially, will determine just how many runs the Mariners score.”
HATCH: Can Chone Figgins, a disruptive offensive force with the Angels for many years, regain his form after hitting just .259, and scoring only 62 runs, in 2010?
WILSON: “He’s had a strong spring. I liked what I saw of him at third base during spring training. The Mariners look to have pretty good pitching. If Figgins can lead a strong infield defense that will really help.”
HATCH: Ichiro hit .315 in 2010, with 214 hits, but is now 37 years old and struck out a career-high 86 times last season. Is this the he begins the inevitable decline? He has 2,244 hits; can he reach 3,000?
WILSON: “By (37) most players have begun their decline. I have no idea how long he can go at his present pace, but I do know the numbers he’s put up are simply amazing.”
HATCH: Arm injuries have bedeviled Bedard since his acquisition from the Orioles in 2008. He’s had a strong spring, however; what will a healthy Bedard mean to the staff?
WILSON: “Erik Bedard and rookie Michael Pineda might be the keys to the entire season. If they can each deliver 30 starts the Mariners should be a much improved club.”
HATCH: Hernandez was dominating in 2010 (2.27 ERA, 232 strikeouts) and captured the AL Cy Young Award despite winning only 13 games. Can he repeat his success?
WILSON: “If he stays healthy, there should be no stopping Hernandez. His stuff is nasty.”
HATCH: Veteran closer David Aardsma (3.44, 31 saves) is out until late April or early May while recovering from hip surgery. Is there an effective closer until he returns?
WILSON: “The hope is that Brandon League can do the job. He has the experience. In fact, however the Mariners’ bullpen make-up develops, there’ll be a number of experienced pitchers coming out of the bullpen.”