Seattle Mariners 2003 Season Preview
By Adam Ulrey
The offense is led by 40-year-old DH Edgar Martinez who is trying to come back after an injury-ridden year. In just over 300 at bats he still hit 15 homers and drove in 60 runs. This team truly misses Edgar when he's not in the lineup to protect the other hitters. He took off some weight and in the first two weeks of spring training is stinging the ball all over the field in typical Edgar fashion. Back at first will be one of the most consistent hitters in the game, John Olerud. He's the best fielder at his position in the American League. You can pencil in 20 homers, 100 RBIs and an average right at .300 from the fifth position in the lineup. His OBP is always around .400 thanks to his terrific plate discipline. Brett Boone will be back at second and along with Olerud they form the best-left side of any infield. Boone has always been known as having a great glove from second base, but in his two years with Seattle he has also found some power, hitting 61 homers. He started off slowly last year, but rebounded in the second half to still hit 24 homers and drive in 107 runs. They will need a big year from him again if they expect to compete with both the A's and the Angels. The shortstop will be Carlos Guillen who will bring a pretty reliable glove and a solid bat. He hit .261 last year with 56 RBIs from the bottom of the order. He and Boone are known as one of the better second-shortstop combos in the big leagues. The third baseman will be Jeff Cirillo who had the worst hitting season of his career, batting only .249. Don't count on that happening again. Look for Cirillo to rebound and have a solid year with the bat. No need to worry about his fielding, as he might be the best at his position in the majors. There is no better fielding infield around, as the Mariners infield is full of nothing but Gold Glove winners. The catching will be done by the platoon of Dan Wilson, who doesn't get the credit he deserves for his defensive abilities, and Ben Davis, the former 1st round pick.
The outfield will have Mike Cameron in center, Ichiro in right and the newcomer Winn in left. Winn came over as compensation for the Pinella signing. Winn made the all-star game last year as the Devil Rays representative. He hit .298 with 14 homers and 75 RBIs and showed his speed on the base paths with 27 steals. The Mariners love to run and he'll be a perfect addition to the team. Cameron will be the first one to tell you that he had a disappointing year, but still over his three years roaming centerfield for the Mariners he is still averaging 22 homers and 90 RBIs. Over that same period Ken Griffey Jr., the man he was traded for averages 23 homers and 75 RBIs. Plus Cameron is every bit as good a fielder as Griffey is. Where he has a huge advantage over Griffey is his speed. Cameron has 80 steals over the three years and is one of the better base runners in the game going from 1st to 3rd or 2nd to home. In right field is the 2001 batting champion Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro put up phenomenal numbers his first year in 2001, but last year the talk was he had an off year, but I beg to differ. You want your leadoff hitter to take more pitches, and he did that, improving his walk total from 30 to 68 and also improving his OBP from .381 to .388. He still hit over .320, had over 200 hits and scored 111 runs. Look for him to get back to running more than he did last year as his stolen base total went from 56 to 31. There is no one who plays a better right field in the game. In his two years he already has established a reputation for gunning runners down trying to take an extra base on him. He was awarded with Gold Gloves in each of the last two years.
The one concern that Melvin talks about the most is finding a number 4 and 5 starter after Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer and Joel Pineiro. The battle is among five pitchers. The organization would love to see Gil Meche finally start paying some dividends after almost three years of arm trouble, So far this spring he has been terrific. Ryan Franklin has the inside track to the fourth spot, but will be challenged by Jamey Wright, Ken Cloude and Rafael Soriano. Garcia has to rebound from his worst stretch as a Mariner starter. His ERA was 5.55 over the second half of the season and the Mariners need him to bounce back for them to have any chance of reaching the post season. The slow throwing lefty, Jamie Moyer, will be back for at least two more season after signing a new contract in the off season. He's like a fine wine, as he gets better with age. The 40-year-old is coming off his two best years of his career going 33-14 with an ERA of 3.36. He's your typical crafty left-hander. Pineiro is the young gun on the staff with filthy stuff. He was 14-7 with a team leading ERA of 3.24. If the front three can win 50 games between them the Mariners should be right in the hunt for the playoffs.
The strength of the Mariners under Pinella, especially over the last three years, has been the bullpen and this year should be no different. The closer is one of the best in Kazuhiro Sasaki. Sasaki has 119 saves in three years and with his splitter he is one of the toughest guys to hit. He's coming off his best year yet with a 2.52 ERA and 37 saves. Jeff Nelson was hurt most of last year and looks to rebound to the form that made him the best right handed setup pitcher in the game. Arthur Rhodes has won 18 games over the last two years being the left-handed setup pitcher and has had back-to-back phenomenal ERAs (1.71 and 2.33). When the starters are ineffective more times than not you'll see Shigetoshi Hasegawa come in and keep the Mariners in the game. Norm Charlton will add depth to an already solid bullpen.
The Mariners have one of the best fielding teams in the league and have some very solid bats, but this team will only go as far as they're pitching staff will allow them. If Garcia can bounce back from a disappointing ending to last season and they find that number 4 and 5 starter, look for them to give the A's and the Angels all they can handle.
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