Updated Mar 23, 2012 - 1:57 pm
10 things to look forward to with the 2012 Mariners
By Jim Moore
The Mariners left for Japan on Thursday and are just five days from starting the regular season against the Oakland A's.
Every year we say the baseball season has snuck up on us, but this year it really has with an opening day on March 28.
I know I'm a cynic and skeptic when I'm not being a pessimist, but I was asked by one of my bosses, Brady Henderson, to write a post about the top 10 things I'm looking forward to with the Mariners this year.
At first, I thought: "This is what it's come to, a *24-year-old telling me what to do. I've been writing since before he was born, and now I'm taking orders from this kid who could be my kid?"
*Editor's note: He's 25 years old, not 24.
And then I thought: "Top 10 things? I can think of five, maybe, but 10?" When you combine my cynical tendencies with a baseball team that's not supposed to be very good, it's a difficult assignment indeed. But here we go ...
(By the way, I just told my 7-year-old twins about this assignment and asked for their contributions. When I asked Stevie what he was most looking forward to from the Mariners, he said: "Felix." When I asked Mikey, he said: "Firing Figgins." Apparently I've passed the cynical genes along.)
Jesus Montero's power to the opposite field should suit him well at Safeco Field. (AP)
9. A full season of Dustin Ackley in the batter's box. I'll look forward to seeing his continued development at second base, too, but I'll be more interested in watching him at the plate. This guy could be a hitting machine.
8. Jesus Montero. I hope that he becomes the everyday catcher next year. But this year, I'm fine with watching him as the everyday designated hitter, hoping he'll hit 25 home runs and deliver 90 to 100 RBIs. Really looking forward to the opposite-field shots that he'll hit to right-center field this year and in years to come.
7. Echoing my kid Stevie's thoughts, I'm looking forward to watching a trimmed down Felix Hernandez this season. With a somewhat improved lineup that might score four runs a game, could Hernandez win 20 games this season? You give him four runs in every one of his starts and I'm guessing he will.
6. A less tolerant Eric Wedge. The Mariners' manager said he will take a different approach this year. Last year he was taking it all in, seeing what he had on his roster. This year, with higher expectations, he figures to be more forceful and more feisty.
5. Michael Saunders. The offseason work that he spent revamping his swing has produced better results in Peoria. Saunders looks like a different guy in the batter's box. We'll see if he can keep it up once the games start counting, but I think that he will, or should I say, hope that he will. And if he does, there's a chance that Franklin Gutierrez won't get his center-field job back. You tell me, if Saunders is hitting .300 when Guti is good to go, would you replace the Condor with Death to Flying Things? I wouldn't either.
4. Justin Smoak. His dad died last year. He had a hot-shot grounder smack him in the face last year. He had a thumb injury last year. Certainly, those were contributing factors to his second-half fade, both in average and power. I'm guessing he'll battle Montero for the team home-run lead and I'm looking forward to seeing his potential unleashed this season.
3. Tom Wilhelmsen. I'll admit it, I just pull for the guy because he's a likable former bartender. Now he's gone from longshot to make the roster last year to eighth-inning set-up man this year. I'm guessing that he'll become the team's new closer when Brandon League is dealt at the trade deadline.
2. I'm looking forward to Danny Hultzen and/or James Paxton joining the team in June or July. These two guys are expected to be fixtures of the rotation. I'm ready for youth to be served and I'm having a hard time being patient, especially during a rebuilding year like this one.
1. 7-6 losses. That's right, 7-6 losses. Last year, if the other team scored seven runs, the Mariners would typically score two, one or zero runs. This year, I'll look forward to an improved offense at least giving you a chance to win high-scoring games. Larry Stone, of The Seattle Times, said the Mariners could have an average American League offense this year. He'll take average, I'll take average, and I think everyone will take average over what the Mariners have trotted out there the past two years.
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