For Starters...

Seattle Mariner fans have high expectations for the 2005 campaign after signing a pair of high profile Free Agents this offseason. Why doesn't anyone outside of Seattle seem to care?



The national media is downplaying the impact signings of Sexson and Beltre, as not nearly enough to right the sinking Mariner ship. Are Mariner fans wearing rose colored glasses or are the so-called experts just missing something?

The case against the Mariners is pretty simple; take last years performance and add two sluggers and what do you get?

Presto!

A lousy team with two new sluggers. At least this is what many media outlets across the country would have you believe. From a very surface level perspective, there might be something to that. The Mariners starting rotation was unstable at best last season, and the bullpen was even worse.

Offensively the Mariners struggled to score runs, particularly in the first half of the season, and defensively, the Mariners were pretty bad, especially after the all-star break. It's easy to understand why so many see the Mariners staying in the hole that Pat Gillick dug for the team towards the end of his tenure with the M's.

Look a little deeper though, and it's easy to understand why Mariners fans are optimistic walking into the 2005 season.

The key to the Mariners success in 2001 was pitching and defense, right? They were the best defensive team in the majors and the starting rotation was one of the top two or three, as was the bullpen.

The 2004 Mariners lacked any of these components ranking near the bottom half of the league in most of these categories. Sure they didn't put up many runs, but that isn't always what makes great teams great in professional baseball. The Mariners pitching and defense stunk in 2004, plain and simple.

If you're a glass empty kind of person, it's easy to expect more of the same in 2005. Barring a major change, the Mariners will start 2005 with the same rotation they ended last season with, sort of.

Top to bottom, the Mariners starting five (actually it was more like the starting 12) collectively had the worst season of their careers. All of them, with the exception of Bobby Madritsch who was fantastic in his eleven starts, had near career lows in ERA. Every time you turned around it seemed that Moyer and Franklin were giving up a home run- 67 times in fact, the most of any tandem in baseball.

Without an ace to step up and stem the blood loss, the Mariners were prone to long losing streaks and high scoring games. Consequently, the bullpen was overworked and banged up, often entering the game before the fifth inning. If pitching is truly the key to winning, then it is no surprise that the Mariners lost 99 games, but a deeper examination into the Mariners' pitching woes is more revealing.

Joel Pineiro was injured and spent the last two months on the disabled list. Even when healthy, he was bitten by the home run bug, and not nearly as effective as in years past.

Gil Meche had an abysmal first half of the season and seemed completely lost on the mound, eventually ending in a demotion to Tacoma. There he was quietly reminded that he had better stuff than Jamie Moyer and to stop pitching like him. For those of us who have watched his progression though the organization, we all scratched our heads and mumbled 'duh,' and he returned, overpowering hitters, going 6-2 after the all-star break.

Ryan Franklin lost 16 games as the lack of offense and porous defense played hell with his mound approach. Franklin has always relied on putting the ball in play and letting his defense do the work, much like Jamie Moyer, and the holey infield and lack of range in the outfield bit both of them.

Jamie Moyer just had an off year as age may finally have caught up with him.

As a group, these guys make up a fine pitching staff, and with a productive offense, improved defense, and a healthy season, should rebound in every category.

Joel Pineiro and Gil Meche are barely 26 and have all the makings to be stars, if they can stay healthy. Bobby Madritsch is the real deal and should anchor the back end of the rotation for years to come.

Jamie Moyer is a question mark. He may have lost just enough off his stuff that the batting practice he threw last year may be permanent, but lest we forget that Jamie has proven naysayers wrong for the past decade.

Ryan Franklin is historically a solid under 4.00 ERA performer. He will never be an ace in this league, and will be the first to be replaced whether via trade, free agent acquisition or Felix Hernandez's arrival, but he is a solid fifth starter in the rotation and will be the biggest beneficiary of an improved offense given his penchant for one run games.

That brings up another point.

Felix Hernandez is not all that far away and a mid season call-up is not out of the question. Understandably, the Mariners are being very careful with their prize prospect. Clearly he has major league stuff, but the bigger concern is whether or not his arm is capable of carrying a 200 inning load. Felix will receive an invite to spring training, but an early 2005 debut is unlikely.

King Felix is not the only prospect with a future with the club. Poor big league introductions not withstanding, Clint Nageotte and Travis Blackley are still key ingredients to the Mariners future. Both have unique talents that set them apart from most MLB pitching prospects, and whether either of them can impact the Mariners 2005 plans remains to be seen.

Probably the biggest thing to keep in mind is that the pitching can't really get any worse. After the horrible start Bavasi threw in the towel early in 2004 knowing that major change was coming. As painful as it was to watch, the daily shuffled lineup and a rotation that was constantly in flux was never intended to win, but rather to evaluate the talent within the organization and ultimately, the Mariners will be better for it.

With that in mind, East coast bias being what it is, I don't put much stock in what the national media says about the Mariners, and neither should you. I'll take a half full glass of Mariners kool-aid any day of the week- and twice on gameday.


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