As your Seattle Mariners were working through the penultimate practice game on Tuesday (April 3) prior to the resumption of the regular season that stands at 1-1, three TV commentators inadvertently brought up what could be the M’s greatest 2012 adversary: the schedule.
Forget the win and loss in Tokyo in late March. If you dare, look ahead to the following:
The Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels are said by many to be the most formidable American League West foes since the division came into being. Seattle is scheduled to meet the Rangers and Angels a total of 38 times, with six against L.A. during the final nine days of the season.
The M’s have 10 slated with AL East fave Tampa Bay, seven of the games to be played in Florida. Seattle also faces AL Central consensus bests Detroit and Cleveland a total of 14 times.
The other hundred games could be said to be winnable by no better than a 50-50 ratio if you consider that the M’s already split their first two against a supposedly inferior Oakland club.
Then there’s that other perennial M’s enemy: geography. The Mariners always play most of their road games in other time zones, logging a lot more travel miles than other clubs. Indeed, one of the great, seldom-noted triumphs of the 116-win season in 2001 is the fact that such a club could win so many even while spending seemingly as much time in the skies as the average airline pilot. “Mariners?” This team should’ve taken a bird nickname but “Seahawks” obviously wasn’t available.
Obviously no one can know for certain which teams will actually figure in the pennant races. After all, few arbiters even predicted the M’s for the division title let alone the 116 wins 11 years ago.
As this is written, certain assumptions about the club’s roster already have been spiked. Right-handed pitcher Shawn Kelley, for example, was expected to be a bullpen stalwart but was assigned Tuesday to start the season in Tacoma.
Nor is there any certainty ahead of the M’s Friday restart of the season in Oakland about which back-up position players will be favored. About the only truth revealed during the Tuesday 9-8 M’s loss (they outhit the Rockies 16-9 but committed five errors) was that at least four players helped remind coaches of their value.
The quartet made their collective statement during the fifth inning. The team trailed Colorado 5-1 when a pair of doubles, a triple, and a Carlos Peguero long ball helped the team to a 6-5 lead.
Kyle Seager tripled and doubled to raise his spring average to .370. And yet the prodigy isn’t even expected to start at third base, with manager Eric Wedge projecting still-light-hitting Chone Figgins to be worthy of leading off and playing third. Fans will be interested to see how long the Figgins project lasts.
Meanwhile, shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, who came into the Tuesday Colorado game with the highest batting average among all big-league spring-training players, raised the mark to .455 with a triple and single.
Michael Saunders already had cemented his claim to be starting center-fielder before going two for four Tuesday to raise his average to .350: exceptional when compared with his woeful 2011 season. Franklin Gutierrez is said to be mending in a hurry and could be back in center by the end of April.
It’s folly, of course, to predict a season’s outcome for an M’s contingent punctuated by so many ???s and so few !!!s. Early as it is, though, many confess to having been disappointed that Felix Hernandez didn’t wind up with the decision in Seattle’s opening win against Oakland. Nor did it please fans that Seattle’s bullpen couldn’t keep Jason Vargas’s excellent start in the second game from being in vain.
In any case, the M’s, presumably rested from the Japan trip, now would seem to be in a position where they can’t claim jet-lag as an alibi if they slack off during the six road games in Oakland and Texas prior to the April 13 home opener. After all, if any organization should be accustomed to dealing with air travel, this is definitely the one.