Print and Go Back ESPN.com: SweetSpot [Print without images]

Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Over/under: Wins for Mariners

By David Schoenfield

The Seattle Mariners ... baseball like it was played in the dead-ball era! Only minus all the stolen bases, bunts, spikes-up slides and players charging into the stands against boisterous hecklers.

The Mariners scored 513 runs in 2010, lowest in the majors by 74 runs -- lower than any National League team and one of the worst performances relative to league average in major league history. In 2011, they increased that total all the way to ... 556. Still worst in the majors.

So is there hope? After all, the Mariners allowed 675 runs in 2011, fourth-best in the American League. Let us count the reasons:

1. Jesus Montero develops into a legitimate middle-of-the-order threat.
2. Justin Smoak had a disappointing first full season, but played through a thumb injury and the unexpected death of his father. He turns into a .275, 25-homer cleanup hitter.
3. A full season and improvement from Dustin Ackley (.273/.348/.417 as a rookie).
4. A better performance from Ichiro Suzuki (.272/.310/.335), who will begin the season in the No. 3 hole.
5. Better performance from Chone Figgins ... or his quick release, with Kyle Seager and/or Alex Liddi getting action at third base.
6. John Jaso ends up with the bulk of playing time at catcher and hits like he did in 2010 with Tampa Bay.
7. Franklin Gutierrez ... well, he can't be as bad as 2011 (.224/.261/.273).

The Mariners hit .233 in 2011. The offense will be better.

But what about the pitching? The team loses 65 quality starts from Michael Pineda, Doug Fister and Erik Bedard. Jason Vargas, Hector Noesi, Blake Beavan and Kevin Millwood begin in the rotation alongside Felix Hernandez, with Japanese free agent Hisashi Iwakuma starting the season in long relief and top prospect Danny Hultzen in Double-A. The bullpen has question marks behind closer Brandon League.

Mariners fans have some optimism after two miserable seasons, but that optimism envisions something like a .500 record with the right breaks. The over/under is 72.5 wins.